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An overview of Jordan Berry's 2015 season and how the punter affects the Steelers defense

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Steelers Nation is going to think I've lost my mind… Training camp has arrived, so that means it's time for Joe's yearly rant about the Steelers punting game: except this year, I'm praising our second year punter instead of complaining about needing a new one (which has been a trend for years with the Steelers.)

Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

I cataloged every single Jordan Berry punt from the 2015 season.

Yes all 72 punts, including the two playoff games.

Punters and more punters

Yes, I had pleaded for the revolving door of punters to end in Pittsburgh. I believe a partial reason for the Steelers going 8-8 in 2013, and missing the playoffs that season, was due having 4 different punters from the beginning of training camp until the conclusion of the regular season. None of those punters were capable of flipping the field, and the "still capable" Steelers defense would end up defending our endzone from midfield, or worse, more often than not. (Notice how going through 4 kickers nearly botched the Steelers 2015 season as well!)

In 2014, the Steelers would sign former Jaguar and Bear punter Adam Podlesh, to compete with an undrafted Brad Wing: Podlesh's wife was pregnant, and had their child, so the job became Wing's by default, as the competition never happened.

As we all know Wing was an okay punter, but was also a key contributor to a Steelers home loss against Tampa Bay that season. Of course, the defense was incapable of stopping Mike Glennon at quarterback, and allowing a street free agent (Louis Murphy) from scoring. (So in that way, it was partially Wing's fault for helping the Bucs start with good field position on his shanked punt.)

That's why I was excited when the Steelers announced they had signed Eastern Kentucky's Jordan Berry to compete with Wing during last year's training camp. Berry has a cannon for a leg (see below) and won the job over Wing, punting 19 times for a 49.8 yards per punt average. (Wing would be traded to the New York Giants for a 2016 7th round draft pick.)

Berry's big leg

https://twitter.com/landonwhite10/status/754752415061118976

Some fans have been down on Berry, following a few lousy punts, particularly to start the Divisional Playoff game against the Denver Broncos earlier this year, however, he recovered nicely in that game and played fairly well throughout the season. Like any rookie, punters too need time to adjust to the professional game, and get comfortable in their digs (though, with specialists Yet, some fans are still upset about the punting situation: let me offer you some relief by listing every punt Jordan Berry made last season, because punting stats, well, are unreliable, as shown here:

Games Punts Yards Long Blocked Y/P
Reg 16 59 2511 79 0 42.6
Playoffs 2 13 531 52 0 40.85

This is where things tend to get tricky: Berry's 42.6 yard-per-punt average ranked 30th among all NFL punters in 2015, with the Rams' Johnny Hekker leading all with a 47.9 average. Of the top 10 punters, only one played for a playoff qualifying team, Houston's Shane Lechler. Three more would join the top 15, while the two Super Bowl punters, Brad Nortman and Britton Colquitt, would rank 18th and 28th in average respectively.

Former Steelers Brad Wing (Giants) and Drew Butler (Cardinals) would rank 22nd and 29th in the same category, thus net yards per punt doesn't quite show the entire picture of the punting game. In fact, almost all punting statistics don't: unlike passing, rushing or receiving, special teams relies more on field position. Could you imagine if Ben Roethlisberger always threw passes from the opponent's 20? He'd never accumulate 300 or more yards passing.

Furthermore, Berry attempted the 29th-most punts in the league last season: the law averages dictates if you have more sample data (more punts) your average will adjust accordingly. One bad punt by Berry drops, what I feel is a meaningless stat, into the bottom of the NFL's punters. That's why we need to objectively look at every punt Berry made in 2015, which I spent a good deal of time researching in the table below.

Each punt is listed by opponent (in order of games played, including playoffs) the line of scrimmage (LOS) when the punt was kicked, the result of the return, the ending result of the play (opponents' line of scrimmage following punt return) any special teams penalties (which also skew the OPP LOS) and if the final sum of all of those components forced the other team to start from inside their own 20 yard line, that is noted with a highlighted row and an "x" in the "inside 20" column.

Every Jordan Berry punt from 2015

Jordan Berry Punts Joe Kuzma / Steel City Underground

Jordan Berry Punts

Starting with the worst

The Denver Broncos Divisional Playoff game: Berry had a rough start, which began with Berry out-kicking his coverage in the mile-high atmosphere with a 52 yard booming punt, leading to a 42 yard return, or net of 10 yards. Berry's next punt was no better, a 27-yard blooper which landed out of bounds, but he would recover with better kicks throughout the game, however some of the damage had already been done, giving the Broncos excellent starting field position in route to a 6-0 head start; field goals the Broncos may have otherwise not had an opportunity to kick had they been pinned back further by the special teams unit.

Not as bad as you think

Of the 72 punts listed, 33 of them put the opposing offense within their own 20, based on Berry's leg and excellent special teams coverage. That figure represents nearly half of Berry's punts last season, and when you consider an additional 7 plays on special teams were moved out of inside the 20, due to good returns by the opposition, or penalties on the Steelers, Berry's overall body of work looks better.

Note: yes, there were some instances in the 33 "inside 20" plays above where the opponent was penalized, however, their returns are predicated on holding or illegal blocks in the back, both penalties which allow for those decent returns to occur.

Of Berry's punts which were 40 yards or less, I'm of the opinion that 8 of those kicks put the Steelers at a disadvantage in field position (that is, the opponent received the ball at their own 40 or better.) Five of those punts were from within the Steelers own 23 yard line or deeper; a partial blame on the offense for having not marched downfield in playing the game of inches.

The best of the bunch

Berry's longest punt occured against the Arizona Cardinals, when, starting from his own 21, he booted a 79-yard beauty, which unfortunately tumbled into the endzone for a touchback.

That punt was followed a week later by his very next, which landed within the Cheifs' 20, but turned into a promising 25-yard gain which could've went further… had Berry not made the tackle himself!

Conclusion

You may be the judge for yourself: my bias is obvious towards the Steelers, and admittedly, I did not compare these figures to some who are considered the best in their league (such as the Colts' Pat McAfee.) However, I felt it necessary to point out that a first-year player has growing pains, and that his overall body of work shows a lot of consistency, but also room to improve. Rather than starting over from scratch, a tactic which has failed over a half dozen times in Pittsburgh, the Steelers should be patient with Jordan Berry, as he could end up being their best punter this decade, and over time, has the potential to be one of the best in the NFL.

Joe is the founder of Steel City Underground, a Pittsburgh Steelers blog and podcast. Follow SCU on Facebook and Twitter.