Patriots' Decision to Keep P Ryan Allen: Numbers Say It Was the Right Move

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Patriots' Decision to Keep P Ryan Allen: Numbers Say It Was the Right Move
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Former Patriots P Zoltan Mesko

The New England Patriots surprised a lot of people earlier this season when they released veteran punter Zoltan Mesko to keep rookie undrafted free agent punter Ryan Allen.

I wrote about the economic aspects of that decision shortly after Mesko's release. What was unknown at that point was whether it was a wise decision from a competitive standpoint.

Through five weeks, it appears that Patriots head coach Bill Belichick—who has final say over the roster—made an unpopular, but ultimately, correct decision.

To determine this, I looked at all of the punts so far this season for Allen and for Mesko, who signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers shortly after his release.

For Allen, that's a total of 30 punts over five games; for Mesko, 20 punts over four games (not counting a roughing the punter penalty Mesko drew).

I also divided punts into two groups: "shorter" punts, kicked no more than 60 yards from the end zone (i.e., from a team's own 40 or closer), and "longer" punts, kicked from further out. Shorter punts tend to be more about precise placement, while longer punts should be more about total distance.

Shorter punts (60 yards or less)
Allen Mesko
Number of punts 15 5
Average line of scrimmage (yards from end zone) 50.7 54.6
Average punt length 40.1 36.0
Average pre-return position (yards from end zone) 15.9 18.6
Touchbacks 4 0

Raw data from NFL.com; calculations by author

The Patriots have had many more drives stall in midfield than the Steelers, which explains the differential in number of punts. Mesko has not had any touchbacks, while Allen has had four, although three of those come on long punts (55–60 yards) that mostly took unlucky bounces into the end zone. 

 

Longer punts (61+ yards)
Number of punts 15 15
Average line of scrimmage (yards from end zone) 75.2 76.3
Average punt length 49.3 43.8
Average pre-return position (yards from end zone) 25.9 32.5
Touchbacks 0 0
Longest punt 65 52

Raw data from NFL.com; calculations by author

On longer punts, though, the field is roughly even, at 15 punts each. There isn't a vast difference in average line of scrimmage—Allen's only punting, on average, from 1.1 yards closer in. His average long-distance punt, though, is over five yards longer than Mesko's. In fact, only 20 percent of Mesko's longer punts (3 of 15) have traveled at least 50 yards through the air, compared to 47 percent (7 of 15) for Allen.

Finally, let's look at the ultimate position for each punt:

Punt placement
Allen Mesko
Excellent 7 (23%) 1 (5%)
Good 8 (27%) 3 (15%)
Touchback 4 (13%) 0 (0%)
Acceptable 9 (30%) 12 (60%)
Failure 2 (7%) 4 (20%)

Raw data from NFL.com; calculations by author

Here is how I define the categories:

  • Excellent punts land inside the 10, and are returned no more than 10 yards. (Returns longer than 10 yards suggest that the punter has outkicked the coverage team.)
  • Good punts land inside the 20, and are returned no more than 10 yards.
  • Touchbacks use the standard NFL definition.
  • Failures travel less than half the distance to the goal line, or are returned more than 20 yards.
  • Acceptable punts include anything outside the other categories is considered an acceptable result.

Based on the data, Allen has done a much better job at avoiding failures, although he did have one nasty shank against Buffalo (kicking a punt from BUF 47 just 19 yards). He's also done a much better job at pinning teams inside the 10—almost a quarter of his punts have been downed inside the 10, and none of those have been returned (including a 65-yard beauty from NE 27, also against Buffalo).

Do you agree with the decision to keep Allen?

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While it is still early to draw a definitive conclusion, the early data suggest that keeping Ryan Allen was the right call.

 

 

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