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In Defense Of Jordan Berry (And Why He Remains A Steeler)

Don’t yell at me yet. I know you’re making a beeline to the comments telling me how wrong I am and that I’m the world’s biggest Danny Smith apologist and that your grandma can punt better than Jordan Berry. Even if you’re stub your toe on the corner of the couch levels of angry with him, let me try to explain why the Pittsburgh Steelers opted to re-sign him, even if you hate the decision.

Dave Bryan laid out a good case Monday for why it’s harder to defend him this offseason than last. Make no mistake. 2018 was worse for Berry and the entire punt coverage team. The net was worse, the coverage team struggled, and moments of serious frustration – like averaging 39 yards on seven tries Week One – that left many wondering why he won the job. His job isn’t secure and nor should it be.

But.

There are some positives here. And I know I sound like a broken record but there are reasons why his average looks worse than a lot of other teams.

Even though Berry didn’t have as many punts around midfield or in opponent territory, when he did, he made them count. Nine of his punts landed at or inside the opposition’s 10. He had 12 the year before but again, more chances to do so.

In 2018, four of his punts landed inside the five. And each time they did, the defense capitalized in a big way.

Week 2 (Kansas City) – Downed at the one, defense records a safety
Week 3 (Tampa Bay) – Downed at the two, Bud Dupree pick six
Week 5 (Atlanta) – Downed at the two, forced fumble/touchdown
Week 8 (Cleveland) – Downed at the four, defense records a safety

A look at all four punts, invaluable field flipping that led to the defense making big plays that weren’t common enough.

 

What do the Steelers value on punts? Disagree or not but what’s at the top of their list? Hangtime and placement. Not distance. And Berry continues to do well there.

He had 63 punts last year. 37 of them were either fair caught or downed, meaning there was no return and they didn’t bounce for a touchback. That’s 58.7% of all his attempts. Here’s how that percentage stacks up with the rest of the league.

Jordan Berry – 58.7%
Tress Way – 57%
JK Scott – 53.5%
Pat O’Donnell – 53.2%
Sam Martin – 51.4%
Michael Palardy – 50.8%
Kevin Huber – 50.7%
Rigoberto Sanchez – 49.1%
Dustin Colquitt – 48.9%
Bradley Pinion – 47.5%
Johnny Townsend – 45.7%
Matt Bosher – 45%
Riley Dixon – 43.7%
Trevor Daniel – 41.9%
Chris Jones – 41.7%
Matt Wile – 41.7%
Thomas Morestead – 41.9%
Bryan Anger – 40.4%
Matt Haack – 40.2%
Britton Colquitt – 39.8%
Johnny Hekker – 39.5%
Andy Lee – 38.3%
Corey Bojorquez – 37.8%
Donnie Jones – 36.1%
Ryan Allen – 36%
Colby Wadman – 35.4%
Cameron Johnston – 34.4%
Logan Cooke – 33.7%
Brett Kern – 31.1%
Lachlan Edwards – 30.5%
Michael Dickson – 29.5%
Sam Koch – 28.3%

Yup, Berry’s tops in football. Now let’s be clear what that number means. It doesn’t necessarily indicate who is/isn’t a good punter but the mentality teams operate with. If the fair catch number is high, odds are the average is lower because again, emphasis on hangtime (Berry ranked 7th, as Dave wrote in his post) instead of distance.

And the numbers tell that story. Sam Koch has one of the best legs in football and ranks dead last on this list. Here’s where the punters with the highest average ranked in that fair catch/down stat.

Andy Lee – 22nd
Michael Dickson – 31st
Cameron Johnston – 27th
Sam Koch – 32nd
Brett Kern – 29th

Here’s the inverse, where the top punters in fair catch/downed ranked in average.

Jordan Berry – T-28th
Tress Way – 13th
JK Scott – T-22nd
Pat O’Donnell – 20th
Sam Martin – T-22nd

Numbers speak for themselves. Those who had a low percentage of non-returns had a high average, teams who clearly cared more about distance. Those who had a high percentage of non-returns typically had a low average, teams who clearly cared more about hangtime.

Can Berry’s average be better? Sure, I’d like to see it go up by a full yard. But understand what the Steelers are asking of him and adjust expectations accordingly.

Let’s look at the top five in punts inside the 20 (minimum 50 punts attempted):

Brett Kern: 52.7%
Tress Way: 51.9%
Trevor Daniel: 48.6%
Pat O’Donnell: 45.2%
Sam Koch: 45%
Jordan Berry: 44.4%
Logan Cooke: 43%

Berry comes in a respectable 6th place. Again, signifies hangtime and placement, not allowing a return, over distance. And generally, those with a high percentage of punts inside the 20 means distance is sacrificed (we’ve all seen open air punts that take a friendly bounce and add 10-15 yards to a punt) and average suffers.

The two long returns the Steelers allowed are difficult to place on Berry. The first was a special teams gaffe, the entire coverage unit unable to find the ball against the Kansas City Chiefs. The second came against Los Angeles. Blame two missed calls by the refs and an injury to long snapper Kameron Canaday as the driving factors for Dez King’s touchdown. Steelers were out there covering with seven guys.

Think Berry needs to get better? Hey, I’m with you. But there’s plenty more to a punter than just what his average shows. For Pittsburgh, they care plenty more about the other numbers. That’s why Berry’s back.

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