Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Special mention for an overlooked weapon

October, 2, 2012

By Mike Sando

The Arizona Cardinals' overtime victory against Miami in Week 4 was remarkable on several fronts.

We discussed many of them after the game.

Two special-teams aspects went relatively unexplored.

One, field goal kicking has improved to the point that Jay Feely's winning 46-yard kick wasn't a big part of the story. Missing from that distance in that situation would have commanded more attention than succeeding commanded. We expect NFL kickers to convert from that range (and if you're a St. Louis Rams fan, you expect to convert from much, much longer).

Two, Cardinals punter Dave Zastudil and Arizona's coverage team helped swing field position.

As noted last week, ESPN's Mark Simon tracks and honors the best NFL punters each week.

Seattle's Jon Ryan received special mention for work performed during the Seahawks' victory over Green Bay. Simon named Zastudil his top punter for Week 4, filing this report:

Dave Zastudil was the busiest punter in the NFL this past weekend.

He was also the league’s best punter.

The Arizona Cardinals veteran is our selection for Punter of the Week for Week 4.

Zastudil’s had a career-high nine punts in the Cardinals overtime win of the Dolphins.

Eight of the nine punts resulted in an increase in the Cardinals win probability for the game (it’s also worth noting with that that all nine of the punts came with the Cardinals losing or tied).

Zastudil’s average punt helped the Cardinals chances of winning 3.3 percent, the best average in the league for the week, the fourth-best by any punter in a game this season.

That included punts that netted 51 and 48 yards in the fourth quarter and overtime that each increased the Cardinals chance of winning by 4.7 percent.

Seven of Zastudil’s nine punts were either downed, out of bounds, or fair caught.

Zastudil got credit for three punts on which the Dolphins ended up with field position inside their 20-yard line, but also had three more in which they were on their own 21 or 22, and another in which a holding penalty on the return pushed Miami back to its 11.

How good was Zastudil?

Consider this:

In the last 20 seasons there have been 354 instances of a punter punting at least nine times in a regular-season game.

Zastudil’s 47.3 gross punting average rates second-best among them,
trailing only a 49.6 yard average from Dolphins punter Brandon Fields against the Jets in 2010.

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