Danny Smith says a 40 yard net punt is the gold standard he uses to gauge how successful his coverage units are. Though I disagree with that assessment, even by his own metric, the Pittsburgh Steelers fell woefully short of that goal.
Jordan Berry netted just 38.8 yards per attempt in 2018, easily a bottom third mark in football. It’s the worst mark of his career and first time he’s ever dipped below 39, three tenths lower than his first year as a Steeler where he finished with a 39.1 yard net.
2017 was a full yard better than this year. That might not seem like much but over time, the difference can be huge. That net yardage finished 26th in the league and more than four yards shy of the league leader, New Orleans’ Thomas Morestead, who registered a couple ticks over 43 yards per try (playing in a dome helps, I know).
Of course, the ugly number isn’t all on Berry. Net is a measure not just of the punter but the coverage unit which follows. And no team fared worse than the Steelers. They allowed 14.4 yards per return; no other team fell above 12. So seeing Berry’s net yardage take that kind of a hit isn’t a surprise and in all honesty, you’d expect it to be worse. Denver and Cleveland’s punters, whose teams also had bottom five coverage units, finished with worse nets.
To be a little more fair, it’s no secret the Steelers pride themselves on hangtime and direction over long, booming punts. That can keep net down inherently if a punter is booting a 43 yarder to the sideline, not a 65 yard “open air” attempt. Though obviously, the fact they’re allowing so many yards per return despite that philosophy is troubling.
Berry is set to be an unrestricted free agent but it would be a mild shocker if the team doesn’t bring him back on a team-friendly deal. At the same time, adding competition wouldn’t be a surprise, just as is their likely plans at kicker. Matt Wile gave Berry quite a push in training camp and the Aussie’s performance, while not terrible, doesn’t deserve of someone who should feel too comfortable.