It’s unfortunate that the most immediate thing people think of when they want to evaluate play on special teams is the return game, because coverage and kicking are equally as important to a team’s success week in and week out. And because the Pittsburgh Steelers have been one of the worst return teams in the league, some of the great work that has been taking place elsewhere is being overshadowed.
Both kicker Chris Boswell and punter Jordan Berry are having arguably the best seasons of their careers in 2019. Boswell is now 21 for 23 on field goal attempts this season, and one of his misses was the result of a bad hold. His other miss came from 54 yards, which is beyond the longest field goal he’s made in his career. He is also perfect on extra point attempts—after missing five last season—for just the second time in his five-year career.
As for Berry, he is putting up easily the best numbers of his career. His 46.3-yard gross average is a full two yards better than his career average, and his 41.6-yard net average is about a yard and a half above his best season.
Head coach Mike Tomlin has been noticing, and both were impactful in Sunday’s win over the Cincinnati Bengals. “I thought our punting, and particularly our situational punting was excellent, and I thought Boz did what Boz does in Cincinnati, which is performing at an extreme high level”.
Berry punted seven times against the Bengals, posting a net average of 42.6 yards. While four of his punts were returned, they managed just 18 total yards in returns, and three landed inside the 20. Given the state of the offense, he has been punting from deeper in his own end this year.
As for Boswell, he went three-for-three on field goals, now with 31 makes in 31 attempts against the Bengals in his career, and he scored the final six points of the game in the fourth quarter in the team’s 16-10 victory.
Tomlin also reserved praise for the return units for largely bottling up Brandon Wilson, who had been averaging something like 35 yards per return heading into the game. He averaged 23.5 yards on four kick returns Sunday. On three of four kickoffs returned, the Bengals started from inside their own 25.
“I thought we also got big-time assistance from special teams without ‘splash’. You like splash, but substance is solid as well”, he said. “They have the number one kickoff return guy in the NFL, and I thought we for the most part neutralized him in that element of play from a field positioning standpoint”.
The performance of the specialists is vital to team success when you don’t have a strong offense. That is unfortunately the Steelers’ current predicament, so the play of Berry and Boswell this year have been an underrated but tremendous boon to their efforts in 2019.