The Broncos finally made a roster move - two really, if you count Mitch Berger's signing and the release of Brett Kern as separate moves. Strange, really. By this time last season, by my unofficial count, the Broncos had made 13 roster moves. Stability is hard to find in the NFL - though it is part of the recipe for success.
It's hard to find fault with a team that is 6-0, at least to the ill-informed eye. For many of us, both on this site and on MHR Radio, we've been discussing the concerns in the punting game. After the Broncos beat the Bengals in Week 1, the team spent the off day working out punters. I wrote that Kern's ineffectiveness was costing the Broncos - at times 10 yards per punt - compared to some of the better punters in the NFL. That's a first down each change of possession - when you have a defense playing the way Denver's is right now, well, that's a HUGE deal.
Then came the Monday Night game in San Diego. Kern struggled again, and I'm not just talking about the line-drive punt to Darren Sproles that was promptly deposited in the Broncos End Zone. There were two other punts that actually infuriated me, and likely the Broncos coaches, more.
The game was close throughout and field position was huge for both teams. The Broncos, on two different occasions, saw possessions stall around the Chargers' 40-yard line. I call that "Plus" field position. While it stinks the Broncos fell short of a scoring opportunity, flipping field position can be huge, especially with the Broncos D. Both times, Kern was unable to force a fair catch inside the 20. Sure, I would love the ball to be downed at the 1-yard line, but acceptable would be a towering kick that Sproles is forced to Fair Catch around the 10. Again, the difference between a touchback (placed at the 20) and a fair catch is 10 yards, or one first down.
Kern may have the leg, but what he (and the Broncos) need is touch. After 6 weeks, the Broncos finally had enough and handed the punting duties to Mitch Berger, most recently of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
While punting stats are hard to quantify, let me give you one that opened my eyes. I'll call it the "Punting Success Ratio" and, well, I just made it up. It is the ratio of Balls Downed Inside the 20-yard line/Touchbacks. Sure, there are factors that effect the ratio, and it isn't perfect, but I think it is a guide.
Perfect? No, but it does show that Berger is better, at least on paper, in placing the ball inside the 20. Another telling stat - Kern has punted the ball 73 times in his career and has seen 2 of them returned for Touchdowns. Berger has 796 career punts - only 5 have been returned for scores.
It might seem like the Broncos cut the cord too quickly with a young player like Kern. Truth is, when you have a season shaping up the way the Broncos do - with what could possibly be Championship aspirations, a return like the one we saw Monday, or poorly placed punts like we've seen this season, could be the difference in a playoff game.
In other words, the Broncos can't be too careful - nor waste any more time.