Steel Curtain Network: A Pittsburgh Steelers podcast

Steelers seeing significant improvement by flipping the field in the punting game

On the most recent episode of the Steelers Stat Geek podcast, I outlined how much the Steelers punting game has improved from the first week of the season. While many people look at simply the average yardage per punt or how many times the ball is downed inside the 20 as the ultimate measuring stick of successful punting, I pondered this summer how I would like to come up with a different statistic to measure punting success.

What I hypothesized is looking at when a team is putting from their own end if they are able to adequately “flip the field.” I came up with my own standard which isn’t meant to be something that shows greatness but simply being adequate with the situation. Additionally, it does not put everything on the punter but the entire punt unit as it is simply looking at the yard line where the ball is snapped before the punt and the yard line where the opposing team takes their next snap. If there is a significant return or even a penalty, it will come into play.

Here are the standards of what I defined as a field flipping punt:

  • When punting at or inside a team’s own 40-yard line, the opponent takes over at or inside their own 20-yard line.
  • When punting at or inside a team’s own 30-yard line, the opponent takes over at or inside their own 30-yard line.

Looking at these standards, some situations have it where it is not all that difficult to succeed. If a team is punting from their own 40-yard line and have a touchback to where their opponent starts at their 20-yard line, it would be the minimum standard of a field-flipping punt. Although a 40-yard net punt does not sound that spectacular, this measurement isn’t meant to only be the spectacular plays but simply getting the job done. For me, any time a team is beyond their own 40-yard line and are punting the ball, it has to be downed inside the 20 to feel like there was some sort of success. This is why I set the standard as a team’s own 40-yard line.

Now that the definition of this standard has been established, here are the results of the Steelers punts each week of the 2023 NFL season stated by the line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped for the punt and the line of scrimmage for the next play by the opponent. Punts which did not fall into the category of being eligible to flip the field will be crossed out, ones that were unsuccessful in flipping the field will be standard font, and ones that successfully flipped the field will be in bold.

Week 1 vs. SF

PIT 20 to SF 46
PIT 29 to SF 32
PIT 15 to SF 50
PIT 40 to SF 24
SF 45 to SF 17
PIT 12 to PIT 38

Week 2 vs. CLE

PIT 40 to CLE 5
CLE 40 to CLE 9
CLE 41 to CLE 25
CLE 48 to CLE 20
CLE 41 to CLE 1
PIT 33 to CLE 6
PIT 31 to CLE 25

Week 3 at LVR

PIT 34 to LVR 12
PIT 27 to LVR 26
PIT 39 to LVR 14
PIT 30 to LVR 20
PIT 27 to LVR 48
PIT 36 to LVR 15

As is plain to see, the Steelers did not manage to flip the field at all the first week of the season even when having five opportunities to do so. Although a punt from the team’s on one-yard line would have to go to their opponents 30 in order to be deemed successful which puts the punting unit at a large disadvantage, this was not the case in any of these situations. The Steelers punting unit simply did not get the job done.

In Week 2 against the Cleveland Browns, the Steelers saw the majority of their punts come where they were already in Cleveland territory. While those are punts you expect to pin the opponent deep, that’s a whole different issue which isn’t being evaluated at this time. But with the Steelers successfully flipping the field two out of three opportunities, there was marked improvement. Additionally, the one punt that was not considered a field-flipping put only missed the standard by one yard as the Steelers were at their own 31-yard line and put the Browns at their own 25-yard line. Had the punt come from one yard farther back, it would have fit the criteria.

Week 3 is where the Steelers saw their punting game really make a difference in putting their team in the best situation. All six of the Steelers punts had the potential to flip the field, and the Steelers did so on five of them. Of course, the ultimate goal would be to get all six. Unfortunately, in a key situation of the game, the Steelers were not able to flip the field as they had a combination of a short punt and a decent return. But this was not the final punt of the game and when one was needed in the final seconds, the unit delivered.

I understand some people may not buy into this notion how I set up this criteria. That’s completely understandable. I just needed to come up with a standard and that’s where I went. But based on these numbers, the Steelers did a much better job of controlling the field position in Week 2 when given the opportunity and many times in Week 3 which put their defense in better situations, something they were lacking in Week 1.

To hear more about the Steelers improving their ability to flip the field in the punting game as well as various other statistics from Week 3 and looking ahead at Week 4, check out the most recent episode of the Steelers Stat Geek below:

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