Steve Breaston is averaging only 6.1 yards a punt return this season.
The highlight of Steve Breaston's brief NFL career, despite his success as a receiver this season, remains his 73-yard punt return for a touchdown last season to help beat the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Breaston was a sure-handed playmaker as a punt returner during his rookie year, averaging a solid 9.4 yards a return. But the numbers have faded this year.
This season, Breaston is averaging only 6.1 yards a punt return with a long of 22 yards. He has 27 returns but nine fair catches, three more than he had all of 2007. His workload has increased in becoming the Cards' No. 3 wideout, but special teams coach Kevin Spencer – who deemed the punt return production "terrible" – said Breaston's new duties aren't a factor.
"In fairness to Steve, I think it is a unit thing," Spencer said. "When you look at (video), well, (one time) we couldn't block the gunner. Or we turned someone lose from the inside. It's never been a total collapse one way or the other.
"He's only as good as the other 10 and the other 10 have been inconsistent and Steve has got no chance."
Spencer pointed out the Cards have faced some of the better punters in the league – the 49ers' Andy Lee and the Rams' Donnie Jones, to name two.
"We're not getting any of the cheesy ones we've actually been giving people," Spencer said, a nod to the Cards' troubles with former punter Dirk Johnson.
Giving Breaston a chance to get going north-south, which is Breaston's strength, has been absent. In Philadelphia, a blocking sequence did seem to open a lane – except Breaston muffed the catch and didn't get a chance at a clean return.
Breaston said he feels just as good returning punts, although he acknowledged the lack of production was "an overall scheme thing." Breaston did emphasize he wants to continue on special teams despite his increasing receiving role, even expressing disappointment he ceded kickoff returns to J.J. Arrington.
"You love having the opportunity to have the ball in your hands," Breaston said. "I always love special teams because it can always be a momentum swing. You break a big return, you block a kick, you can change a game. To me, it's fun. That's where I started."
LEADING IN ST. LOUIS
Interim Rams coach Jim Haslett was talking about how many of his players have publicly backed him to become the Rams' permanent coach in 2009 when he was asked if he truly wanted the job in the first place.
"You sound like my wife," Haslett quipped.
"You know, sometimes you sit back and think, 'Well ….,' Haslett added. "But no, really it wasn't, because like I said, it's not the way I wanted to get a job. I wanted to have another opportunity after the New Orleans experience (where he coached from 2000-2005). It's not really the stamp I would put on my team this year. I would do some things different and draft some things different.
"Will I have the opportunity? I don't know. All I'm doing is I'm going to enjoy this next month."
With cornerback Rod Hood (ribs) and linebacker Clark Haggans (foot) both back to practicing full Friday, the Cards' defense should be back to relative full strength against the Rams. Hood's absence has been painful, and Haggans' injury showed how important the veteran had become himself.
"When we have had all four of our outside guys playing and rotating, that's when we have been able to create some pressure, even with our four-man (rush)," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "It's always good to get back a player like Clark just because of the many things he brings to the table."
The only players who aren't likely to play are safety Matt Ware, still recovering from facial surgery, and linebacker Pago Togafau (knee). Both are key in special teams, however.
For the Rams, only cornerback Tye Hill (out with a bad knee) is expected not to play.
Contact Darren Urban at email@example.com. Posted 12/5/08.