By Matthew Marczi
To the surprise of exactly nobody, the Pittsburgh Steelers elected yesterday to waive punter Zoltan Mesko after seven games, replacing him with veteran free agent punter Mat McBriar, hoping to punt on their recent special teams woes.
The Steelers, of course, brought in Mesko after the New England Patriots released him upon the conclusion of the preseason, opting to go with the rookie Ryan Allen. On the year, Allen is averaging 46.2 yards per punt and a net of 40.4, with only 34 percent of his punts being returned. While seven went for touchbacks, nine were fair caught and ten were downed, with 16 of his 47 punts downed within the 20.
Mesko, on the other hand, is averaging only 42.5 yards per punt, with a net of 36.7. Additionally, half of his 34 punts have been returned, and only three have been downed within the 20, although his first two touchbacks of the year came this past week against the Oakland Raiders. Twelve punts total were either downed or fair caught.
More to the point, Steelers opponents have returned 17 of Mesko’s 34 punts, and done so for 156 yards, or 9.2 yards per return. That is 5.6 yards per punt. Of Allen’s 47 punts, 16 were returned, for 134 yards. That is 8.4 yards per return, and just 2.9 yards per punt, or nearly half the return yardage per punt for Mesko.
The numbers above show pretty clearly that the Patriots were wise to relieve themselves of their veteran punter when they did. For supporting evidence, Pro Football Focus graded Mesko out at -3.8 for the season, while Allen has a grade of 6.3. But how did Mesko’s performance compare to Drew Butler’s a season ago?
In 2012, Butler punted 77 times for an average of 43.8 yards and a net of 38.3. Just 30 of Butler’s punts were returned, or 39 percent. Only six of his punts went for touchbacks, while 30 were downed within the 20-yard line. Twelve punts were downed, while 20 were fair caught by the returner.
Thirty of Butler’s punts were returned for a total of 306 yards for an average of just over 10 yards per return. That included a 63-yard touchdown by Jacoby Jones. Still, that is an average of just 4 yards per punt, which is a significant improvement over Mesko’s figure this season.
Last season, McBriar played in 11 games for the Philadelphia Eagles, grading out at 8.4 courtesy of Pro Football Focus, which included a -2.5 overall grade through the last three weeks of the season.
By the numbers, McBriar averaged 46.5 yards and a net of 36.5 on 55 punts. 47.3 percent of his punts, or 26 in total, were returned for 378 yards. That is a terrible 14.5 yards per return, and 6.9 yards per punt.
Mesko left off with the Steelers as the 31st-ranked punter in the league, and the Steelers elected to punt their problem away. Will McBriar mark an improvement?