The game of football is broken down into three phases; offense, defense and special-teams. The first two are always discussed but the latter often gets overlooked. Yet, close games are usually decided by this unit. Whether kicking a last-second field-goal to win the game or playing the field-position game to a tee, special-teams is just as important to winning and losing but doesn’t get the hype nor the recognition. Not today.
Last week saw San Francisco 49ers P Andy Lee put on a show as I tweeted:
One of the real studs that NO ONE is talking about is Special Teams P @AndyLee4! 45.8 avg with 3 punts inside the 20 (including 1-yard line)
— Ryan Sakamoto (@SakamotoRyan) September 8, 2014
And Lee agreed as he favorited/retweeted that assessment. But what makes Lee so valuable? When punting, the hope is to pin the opposing team’s offense as close to the end zone as possible while allowing the defense to have more space to work with. The punter is not the most glamorous position, yet it can be one of the most important positions, especially if the offense is struggling. This is where Lee’s value lies.
When it comes to punters, the Forever Faithful know that Lee is arguably the best in the game. A 2004 sixth-round draft pick, Lee is a three-time Pro Bowl selection (2007, 2009, 2011) and a four-time All-Pro (2007, 2009, 2011, 2012). He holds the NFL record for net punting average with a 44.0, which he achieved in 2011, while also becoming the 49ers all-time career punting leader with 40,282 yards. Aside from his elite stats, Lee is also extremely durable as he has never missed a game.
Regarded as one of the best in the game, the 49ers rewarded Lee with the most lucrative contract ever given to a punter, as Lee signed a contract extension through the 2018 season. 49ers GM Trent Baalke commented on his All-Pro punter last off-season saying:
Andy has established himself as one of the top players in the game at his position. He is a valued member of our organization and community.
And the numbers don’t lie. In Lee’s 10-year career, he has only had three punts returned for touchdowns. In addition, Lee only had three punts blocked during his career, while also possessing pin point accuracy with 275 career punts inside opponent’s 20-yard line, which is good for 31.5%. In all, almost 32% of Lee’s punts will be inside the opponents 20-yard line, meaning offenses will need to establish scoring drives of at least 80 yards. If you are a stats junkie like me, these are some amazing numbers but nonetheless extremely important to the kicking game.
So what should the Forever Faithful expect from Lee on Sunday night against the Chicago Bears? More premium punts deep inside enemy territory. Lee is a natural at trajectory allowing his gunners to get downfield while placing a back spin on the football. A true master of his craft, look for the 49ers defense to benefit as they pin the Bears deep inside their own 20.
There is no doubt that the Bears will have to arrange their game-plan around Lee’s kicking abilities. Just because their defense may stop the 49ers offense, doesn’t necessarily translate into good field position for them. Lee is a defense’s best kept secret because outside of the Forever Faithful and NFL coaches, not many fans know who he is. Like I said in the beginning, the punter is not the most glamorous position in the NFL, he will not be the NFL leader in jersey sales, or garner the post-game headlines, but that is the way the Forever Faithful want it. It is hard to keep a secret and right now the 49ers best kept secret, is the amazing leg of Lee.
Watch him in action on Sunday, as I predict another big game for Lee, as he holds Bears PR Santonio Holmes to fair catches while booming a punt average of 47.8 yards on three punts with two inside the opponents 20-yard line.