The San Francisco 49ers road game against the Cleveland Browns has plenty of implications for draft positioning, but we know the real story: the 49ers first matchup against former punter Andy Lee!
The 49ers traded Lee to the Browns back in June, coming after the team's decision to spend a draft pick on Bradley Pinion. Once the team drafted Pinion, it was clear the team was going to part ways with Lee.
Pinion got off to a slow start with the 49ers, showing inconsistency from week-to-week, and really punt to punt. Lee got off to a strong start, and the comparisons were inevitable. However, in the last few weeks, Lee has come back to earth a bit, while Pinion has closed the gap. Currently, Lee is averaging a gross of 47.3 yards per punt, and a net of 40.4, while Pinion is averaging a gross of 44.6, and a net of 39.9. Lee ranks No. 12 in net punting yards, and Pinion ranks No. 13.
We will have plenty more analysis of Pinion once the offseason gets here, but Jim Tomsula and special teams coach Thomas McGaughey both weighed in on Pinion's improvement.
What changed with [Pinion]? Did something--?
"Well, no. He just keeps working, keeps going. Again, you're around Bradley. He's doing a good job. He's taking the coaching and he's making the improvements that he's being asked to make and he's staying on it. We've got to continue on that road. But, I liken a punter coming in, he came in and started. You get into quarterbacks that come in, walk off the street, walk out of college, walk into the NFL, they're starting, here we go. That ball's in your hands. Anything you're doing when that ball's in your hands in magnified."
"Light comes on. Sometimes when you're young like that there's some things that you're doing mechanically that you're kind of struggling with. Then all of a sudden, ‘oh, all I've got to do is this,' and the light comes on. I think the light has come on for Bradley. I think he's moving in the right direction. He feels good about where he's going and he's hitting a more consistent ball and that's what we want from him."
I checked in with Chris Pokorny from Dawgs By Nature to get his thoughts on Lee since his arrival in Cleveland.
When the Browns acquired Andy Lee, I thought it was a great addition. His reputation preceeded him, as I knew he had often represented the NFC in the Pro Bowl and was near the top of the All-Time punting list for net average.
Before the season started, fans thought that the Browns' mentality would be to grind out games, and that Lee would play a big role in the field position aspect. The belief was that Cleveland could hold teams to under 20 points in many games, and have an offense focused on running the ball. Even if Cleveland only had one or two solid drives each week, having Lee's ability to change field position on those other drives might allow the club to win a bunch of games with scores like 17-14, or 20-14. The offensive and defensive deficiencies haven't allowed for that plan to come to fruition.
As for Lee, he had an awesome preseason. It seemed like every punt that came off of his foot was landing inside the five yard line. During the regular season, he's been solid overall, but I think the bar was set so high for him that fans have been slightly let down that he's not getting more punts downed inside the 5, or even inside the 10. He finally got one
out of bounds at the 1 yard line two weeks ago against the Ravens, but of course our defense couldn't take advantage of it and allowed a 17-play drive that resulted in a field goal.