The Redskins offense has the fewest amount of three-and-outs in the NFL, which means Tress Way has punted the football at a record low this season.
A cursory glance at the Redskins player's ping-pong leaderboard standings inside the team's locker room will tell you that Tress Way is an extremely competitive person. He doesn't like to lose, whether that's playing table tennis against a teammate or matching up statistically with other NFL punters.
Which is why the 2016 season has been quite a challenge for him. On the one hand, the Redskins have a winning record (6-4-1) and are holding onto the sixth playoff spot in the NFC. Quarterback Kirk Cousins will shortly soar into the team's record books in a variety of categories, leading a dynamic offense down the field.
On the other hand, through 11 games, Way is averaging just 2.6 punts per game, which is unprecedentedly low in a two-year career that's seen him on the field punting for an average closer to 4.5 times per game. The team has been winning, but Way has rarely been competing.
"The last couple of years, I always loved trying to finish up in the Top 10 with my numbers and this and that and so, whenever you don't, obviously for me as a competitor it drives me nuts, because we've punted less than 30 times this year, which is just unbelievable," Way said.
The Redskins have called on Way to punt 29 times to be exact, and once to pretend to punt (Way threw a dart to Quinton Dunbar against the Giants in Week 3 on a fake). That's a very low number considering that Way has averaged around 73 punts in his first two seasons in the league. Why is this happening?
It goes back to the Redskins offense, which has the fewest three-and-outs in the league. Out of 116 total drives, Washington has only gone three-and-out 11 times, a 9.48 percentage. This is not a statistic inherent to the best offensive teams – the Saints have the third lowest percentage while the Chargers have the fourth lowest – which makes this even more of an anomaly for Way.
This has been of interest to Cousins, who sits near Way's locker, when he noticed it early this year, after Way only punted once against the Steelers and twice against the Cowboys a week later.
Check out these photos of the Redskins' defense and special teams preparing for their Week 13 game against the Arizona Cardinals Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016, at the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park
"I never noticed it prior to this season, but a few weeks into the season, I went over to Tress Way and said, 'How many times have you punted? We're not really using you on the field and you're one of our better players,'" Cousins said. "And he said, 'Yeah, Kirk, actually we've punted the fewest in the league.'
"We've talked about it many times," Cousins added, "and ultimately it's all about points. It doesn't really matter if you're not coming away with points. That's where the red zone and things like that are more important. But it's an indication of doing some good things on offense and not having three-and-outs certainly keeps Tress Way on the sideline more often than not."
That's meant a lot more pacing for Way, watching the offense escape their own territory in between his in-game routines, when he catches snaps and practices drops. Before the game and at halftime, Way will aim to get into a groove and kick some balls as far as he can, but for the most part that skill has been unneeded this season since the Redskins will often ask him to punt around midfield to pin teams back (which naturally makes his yards average decrease).
"Unselfishly, like, of course I don't want to be out there," Way said. "It's awesome that our offense is just cruising. This offseason I worked really hard at pinning other teams deep and I think that's something I've done better this year than I have in the past, so that's something I've been very happy with. I definitely do miss the old days where we were back deep and I could just bang a couple. I'm pressing a little more when I'm out there and I've just got to understand that, offense is cruising, when they need me, they need me."
Because of the weapons around Cousins and the run game beginning to play more of a factor with Robert Kelley in the backfield, longer offensive drives have become the norm. Washington is second in the league averaging 6.5 yards per play, a statistic, paired with minimal penalties, that's helped them connect on more first downs.
"It's helpful because once you get that ball rolling and on pace, it makes a big difference. I've seen teams that get on the field and then they're sitting for five minutes," right tackle Morgan Moses said. "When you're in third-and-5, rather than third-and-8, third-and-9, it's a whole different play call."
"If you can last longer than three plays on offense, it gives the defense a chance to recover, adjust to what their [opponent is] doing on offense," Kelley said.
"The more time you got, the more time you get to go over your stuff, coaches telling you what to look out for and give you a time really to regroup and reset and get ready for another set of downs," linebacker Mason Foster said. "It helps a lot, it's a big deal when our offense moves the ball."
Even though his skills aren't in demand as much, Way is still able to see the bright side of this unusual predicament. He feels bad for the punt coverage team ("they're just a bunch of wolves that aren't able to hunt right now") but enjoys watching the offense just like a fan.
"We were laughing talking to [Jordan] Reed today," Way said. "Whenever it's third down and the ball just goes in his general vicinity, we just start taking off our helmet, because we know it's a first down. I mean the guy's unbelievable. Watching Kirk operate, I can't tell you how many times they hit a touchback, we start on our 25, three plays later we're on the 50-yard line."
Down the stretch, as the team embarks on its last five games of the season, Way is hoping he will continue to be needed in limited capacity (punting-wise, not holding-wise), if only because that would generally imply the offense was still functioning at a high level, at least into an opponent's territory.
If the team makes the playoffs again, Way will remain content, watching from the sideline and taking out his "9-iron" around midfield.
"I'm hoping to have a long career and stay in Washington as long as they will have me and so maybe there will be some years where I do this, where I learn to just dial it back and do what I can to help the team, and Lord forbid there's going to be some years where I punt a lot," Way said. "It's been a cool learning experience for me and as a competitor I've just got to take a deep breath and realize, hey, just one at a time, help the team with whatever I need."