The news came today that not only was Matt McBriar participating in minicamp practices, but he was back to his old form. Punts were booming off his previously broken foot and that is bigger news for the 2009 Dallas Cowboys than many people realize. As most people still vividly remember, the season took a major turn for the worst in the overtime session of the week 6 Arizona game last season. Everyone remembers that Romo broke his pinkie, but Matt McBriar's injury on the blocked punt was felt for the remainder of the season.
McBriar was on his way to his best season in 2008 before he was injured. He was averaging 49 yards per punt with a net average of 38.8 yards. Sam Paulescu was signed off the street to fill in and did an admirable job, but he was obviously a major downgrade at the position. His net average was 35.2 which wasn't terrible but the more telling statistic was his 41.8 gross average. 7.2 yards per punt doesn't sound like much difference but you also have to consider the trajectory of the ball. McBriar booms the ball high which in turn allows the coverage unit to get down the field to stop the punt returner. Not only was Paulescu shorter with his punts but they were lower and misdirected as well.
I still blame Paulescu as one of the main culprits in the Pittsburgh meltdown because his kicked the ball low and to the wrong side of the field which allowed a huge return late in the 4th quarter of the game. He was signed off the street to fill in for McBriar so we shouldn't have expected much but he should at least be able to punt the ball to the correct side of the field. There is a very good chance that Pittsburgh would have run out of time trying to tie the game up had they been forced to drive the ball down the field rather than starting deep in the Cowboys' end of the field which resulted in a quick score.
I hate rehashing the Pittsburgh game again, but my point is that a punter can make a huge difference in the outcome of not only a game, but the entire season. McBriar's injury cost the Cowboys countless yards in the field position battle and, in my mind, quite possibly a playoff-clinching victory against the eventual Super Bowl champions. A healthy McBriar in 2009 is going to improve the special teams more than anything else this offseason. I am a fan of Joe DeCamillis, but Matt McBriar has power in his leg that you can't coach.