By Chris Bradford firstname.lastname@example.org
PITTSBURGH – As the most rudimentary fan knows, there are three phases to football: Offense, defense and special teams. According to Ryan Shazier, the Steelers have it narrowed down to two.
“We count our special teams as part of the defense,” the inside linebacker says.
The Steelers had many defensive weapons in Sunday’s 24-16 win over Cincinnati: Ross Cockrell, Will Gay, Mike Mitchell and Shazier to name just a few.
But they also had Jordan Berry, the punter.
The Aussie was a busy man in Week 2, matching a career-high with eight punts, averaging 47.1 yards per kick and placing five of them inside the Cincinnati 20.
One of those was in the second quarter when Berry pinned the Bengals at their own 3. Thanks to the field position, the Steelers were able to get a 49-yard field goal from Chris Boswell without even getting a first down.
“I thought field position was a legitimate edge in the game for us,” coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday. “Jordan Berry and that punt group did an awesome job, largely making Cincinnati work with a long field all day.”
When it mattered most, Berry was at his best. After Andy Dalton’s touchdown pass to RB Giovani Bernard made it a one-score game with 3:34 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Steelers offense went three-and-out at their own 29. Fortunately for the Steelers, Berry then launched a 58-yard moon shot into the left corner, leaving Adam Jones – one of the NFL’s best return men — with little room for a return as the Bengals took over at their own 25.
“We definitely thank Jordan a lot,” Shazier said. “He’s one of the best punters in the league. I think people are starting to recognize and notice him a lot more. Jordan’s done a great job. He’s always putting us in great position. The percentages of teams scoring inside the 10 and 20 is a lot (lower) than from the 30. When he’s helping us like that, it really makes our defense a lot better.”
Picking up where he left off in the preseason, where he easily retained his job after a brief, one-sided training camp battle, Berry has been outstanding in the early going this season.
Berry is currently ninth in gross yards at 48.4, seventh in net average at 42.8 yard and tied for seventh with four fair catches. Moreover, Berry is tied for fourth in punts inside the 20. Half of Berry’s 10 punts have pinned opponents deep.
The Steelers thought so much of Berry’s strong right leg last year that it made incumbent Brad Wing expendable, trading the fellow Australian to the New York Giants for a conditional sixth-round pick.
As a rookie, Berry rewarded Pittsburgh by averaging 39.1 net yards and placed 47.5 percent of his punts inside the 20, matching or establishing franchise records. But Berry struggled with consistency, especially down the stretch after suffering a torn labrum while making a tackle in Week 15 vs. Denver.
Now healthy, the 6-foot-5, 195-pound Melbourne native seems poised for a breakout year. Tomlin, who has always claimed that the biggest jump he sees in players occurs between years one and two, says the same applies to punters.
“It’s just the natural progression,” Tomlin said. “He won the job a year ago and gave us some quality play. He’s been in our off-season program. He knows what’s expected. I think you’re just seeing a performance that’s associated with that.”