In the hopes of securing a future at the position, the Pittsburgh Steelers this season opted to go with first-year punter Jordan Berry after finding a buyer for incumbent Brad Wing, who admittedly had an up-and-down rookie season.
Berry more or less steamrolled through the preseason, finishing high in the league in both average distance per punt as well as net average, though unsurprisingly the regular season has not been quite as smooth.
The first-year punter had a down night during the Thursday night loss against the Ravens, during which one could safely argue that his performance helped contribute to the loss. It seemed that he couldn’t get much more than 40 yards on his kicks on the night, which frequently set Baltimore up with 60- to 70-yard fields to work with.
Needless to say, both he and the team were looking for a bounce-back performance, and I would say that they largely got one from Berry, who was asked to punt eight times during the Steelers’ victory over the Chargers on Monday night.
Of those eight punts, six were downed or fair caught inside the 20-yard line on the Chargers’ side of the field, although it is worth noting that one of those six featured a foolish fair catch interference penalty that actually resulted in the drive starting from the 25. Because the punt was technically fair caught at the 10, however, Berry got, and deserves, credit in that instance.
The game is, in fact, a good example of why it is important to look beyond the stats to see exactly what transpired. Berry averaged just 39.6 net yards per punt on eight punts over the course of the night which is quite poor, as was his 40.3 gross average.
But his performance was not poor at all. The simple fact of the matter was that he was frequently punting from around the 30- to 50-yard line, even beyond midfield, which is typically conducive to shorter distances even on quality punts.
His two best results, in fact, were on short punts. Late in the first half, Berry punted from the Chargers’ 41-yard line for just 34 yards, but it was fair caught by Jacoby Jones on the seven-yard line. Statically, a 34-yard net average does not look good, but forcing your opponent to work with a 93-yard field certainly is.
Berry’s first punt of the second half was just a 38-yarder, but it game from the Chargers’ 42-yard line, where it was downed by the coverage unit at the four-yard line. Again, on paper, it looks like a bad net average, but the result itself is exceptional.
His next punt was his longest of the night, a 53-yarder downed at the five-yard line, though it must be noted that on this occasion the returner chose not to field the ball, which took a highly friendly Steelers bounce.
It also should not be ignored that his final punt of the night traveled just 38 yards to the 35-yard line, which was returned for five yards, and should have been more if not for an impressive individual effort. That was his junior varsity punt of the night. His first two punts could have been better as well, the latter a 42-yarder that only reached the 24, the former at 31-yarder fair caught at the 16.