Steelers Nation’s reaction to news that the Pittsburgh Steelers had signed punter Adam Podlesh ranged from ho-hum to derision as documented by Behind the Steel Curtain.* Some of this is logical, as Adam Podlesh’s punting averages were actually worse than both Mat McBriar and Zoltan Mesko.
- But the more refined response is: Who cares?
Seriously. Assuming he can avoid blocked kicks, how much impact does a punter have anyway?
Sure, I am sure Pro Football Focus has some saber metric that reads like this:
- “Analysis shows that pass defenses on teams with a favorable gross/net punting ratio enjoy a statistically significant “passing yards per attempt allowed” advantage.
Maybe Pro Football Focus has no such stat. Even if they do, it says here that the Steelers have won more Super Bowls than anyone else, and it further says that in that respect, good punting doesn’t count for squat. Read on:
|Does good punting = grim harbinger for the Steelers? Hum…
Number don’t lie fellow citizen of Steelers Nation. Let’s take a closer look for those who remain unconvinced.
Bobby Walden handled the punting duties for the Steelers in Super Bowl IX and Super Bowl X. The Steelers ranked just above the middle of the pack and in fact were right about average in terms of punting.
- Very little was average about those 1974 and 1975 teams laden with NFL Hall of Famers.
No offense, but the presence of players like Joe Greene, Franco Harris, and Jack Lambert explain a lot more about the 1st two Lombardi’s than does Walden.
Craig Colquitt took over the chores for Super Bowl XIII and Super Bowl XIV and the Steelers punting performance perked up just a tad. Now Pittsburgh’s defense was in decline by that point, and perhaps better punting put them over the edge.
- Or maybe it was more due to Chuck Noll taking advantage of the Mel Blount rule to unleash Terry Bradshaw, Lynn Swann and John Stallworth. Decide for yourself.
The Steelers 6-10 ’86 season stands as an aberration. Harry Newsome had arrived, but the Steelers still ranked in the bottom quarter of the league in terms of punting. Newsome picked his performance by 1988, and the Steelers led the NFL in punting.
- They also had their worst post-1971 finish.
Legend has it the Bubby Brister scrawled “Playoffs 1989” on the chalk board to open training camp that summer, but it’s doubtful that Pittsburgh’s punting advantage in Newsome inspired him to do so.
In 1995 Rohn Stark filled the gap between Mark Royals and Josh Miller and the Steelers were the third worst punting team in the league. Nonetheless, the Steelers came heart breakingly close to “One for the Thumb” vs. Dallas in Super Bowl XXX.
- Now, was that due more to Stark’s punting or Neil O’Donnell’s two picks? Again, you decide.
Josh Miller was a fine punter, and during the “My buddy’s the cop” phase of Kordell Stewart’s starting tenure he became somewhat of a cult hero and Baltimore’s legendary Purple Goose Saloon and yours truly was one of his prime promoters. Yet in 2003, Miller had the Steelers punting ranked above average, but they still had a 6-10 record.
- The Steelers replaced Miller with Chris Gardocki, who punted on in Super Bowl XL, but One for the Thumb Came in spite of a 22nd ranking punting game.
And of course the Steelers attained further glory in Super Bowl XLIII despite the having the second worst punting game thanks to Mitch Berger and Paul Ernster.
Rounding it out you have 2010 and the loss to Green Bay in Super Bowl XLV, a season in which the Steelers broached the top 25% in punting. Could getting on the other side of that 25% mark have negated Ben Roethlisberger’s interceptions, Mike Wallace’s ghosting, or Mendy’s fumble? Count me a skeptic.
Prayer’s and Shout Outs
Of course this analysis only looks at punting average, and not inside 20 numbers or anything like that. And of course crappy punting can hurt you, just remember the Oakland game. But let’s repeat it:
- Number don’t lie
In the “Post Immaculate Reception Era” there is no correlation between good punting and winning Super Bowls. In fact, if anything the data suggests something quite the opposite.
So whether Brad Wing or Adam Podlesh wins out, perhaps its best to pray for Pittsburgh’s punter to stink.
*Full disclosure. I also write for BTSC. And by complete happenstance (on my honor as a Life scout), it I saw that their Tony Defeo, a good friend and soul mate, had the same idea and beat me to the punch. Check his out here.