Spotlight comes with job for West punters

Five times in nine weeks an NFC West punter has earned acclaim from ESPN punter awareness coordinator Mark Simon.

Simon works for ESPN Stats & Information. He isn't really a punter awareness coordinator, at least not officially. I've called him a puntologist in the past.

The bottom line: Simon sifts through net averages and field-position charts before declaring NFL punters of the week, and he likes what he sees in the NFC West.

Seattle's Jon Ryan became a two-time 2012 winner of Simon's punter award for his performance during a 30-20 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. Ryan also won for his work against Green Bay in Week 3. Arizona's Dave Zastudil (Week 4), St. Louis' Johnny Hekker (Week 5) and San Francisco's Andy Lee (Week 7) have also won the award this season.

Here's what Simon had to say about Ryan this week:

"Ryan punted four times and had the second-highest net average for the week -- 48.5 yards -- in the Seahawks' win over the Vikings. All four of Ryan’s punts added to the Seahawks chances of winning the game.

"Ryan's most notable punts both came with the scoring margin within one score in the second half. He had a 54-yard punt early in the third quarter that pushed the Vikings back to their own 18 (which added 4.4 percent to Seattle’s chances of winning) and a 45-yard punt in the fourth quarter that pinned the Vikings on their own 6 (which added 2.5 percent).

"Ryan ranks third in the NFL in gross average (50.0) and fifth in the league in net average (42.6) and is tied for the NFL’s longest punt this season (73 yards)."

The win probability stats Simon cited are increasingly becoming part of mainstream analysis. In short, history tells us how many points a team should expect to score in every situation, taking into account score, time of game, down, distance, yard line, etc. Expected points change from play to play. In this case, the Vikings were less likely to score (and win) after taking over deep in their own territory. History tells us how much less likely.

Lee and Hekker were off in Week 9. Zastudil is off in Week 10. Hekker and Lee go toe-to-toe Sunday at Candlestick Park. Ryan will be home against the New York Jets. Forecasts call for light winds in San Francisco and Seattle on Sunday.