Regular readers know we typically note the NFL's weekly awards only if there is a particularly interesting hook to them, and I think we have one here as Week 2 transitions into Week 3. Green Bay Packers punter Tim Masthay was named the NFC's Special Teams Player of the Week, and our friends at ESPN Stats & Information have passed along some analytics that offer a rare glimpse into the role of a punter in a team victory.
The final statistics show that Masthay averaged a gross of 47.6 yards, and a net of 42.0, on five punts in the Packers' 23-10 victory over the Chicago Bears. Three of those punts were downed inside the Bears' 20-yard line, part of the reason the Packers enjoyed a nine-yard differential in their average drive start. (Their 37-yard line as opposed to the Bears' 28.)
(Masthay also got credit for a 27-yard touchdown pass on the Packers' now-infamous fake field goal, but I don't think that impacted this award.)
ESPN's analytics team has a win probability formula that in essence calculates the impact of every play toward a winning effort. The average Masthay punt last Thursday night added 2.9 percent toward the Packers' chances of winning, based mostly on field position and the Bears' inability to spring a game-changing return. His 56-yarder in the first quarter, one that Bears returner Devin Hester fair caught at the Bears' 18-yard line, was itself responsible for adding a six percent chance to the Packers' chances of victory.
It's hard to get your head around something as obtuse as win probability, but suffice it to say, punters don't normally impact the outcome of a game as much as Masthay did Thursday night. He rendered Hester, one of the Bears' biggest weapons, a non-factor; Hester got off only two returns for 8 yards. And after his punts, the Bears started their drives at their 18-, 17-, 20-, 24- and 18-yard lines. They faced a full field all game long against an aggressive defense that wasn't giving up big plays.
Now then, back to quarterbacks yelling at teammates ...