January 22nd 2010
Over the course of this NFL season, I have been asked the question, “What’s going on with the kickers this year?”
All-Pro kickers such as Nate Kaeding and Shayne Graham missed important kicks in the playoffs, Nick Folk had a debacle in Dallas and Baltimore Raven, Billy Cundiff missed a 30 yard field goal. Seven NFL teams made changes this year with their kicker. Even Kris Brown of the Houston Texans had an off-season. You have to wonder if there is a hex on each and every goal posts
There could be a number of reasons for the decline in field goal percentages.
First, over the last 5 years, NFL kicker have developed such high expectations. Numerous kickers, have set NFL records and the overall field goal percentages have risen. They discussed the idea about possible shortening the field goal posts or widening the hash marks to make kicking a field goal harder. They even have special footballs for kickers that are brand new, in order to make it harder to score points. The NFL even moved the kickoff spot to the 30 yard line. In other words, kickers have done so well lately, they are expected to make a 57 yard field goal in a playoff game with their eyes closed. Coaches are trying more and longer field goals – and they are expected to make it.
Secondly, you could make the case that a few of these kickers were hurt, such as Neil Rackers (groin) for Arizona. But I disagree, Rackers and Shayne Graham (Bengals) have been there before, they are familiar with the playoffs and making important kicks. It may not be the case for former Dallas Cowboy kicker, Nick Folk, who had hip surgery in the off-season. I am surprised he made it as long as he did, having hip surgery would be tough for any position.
NFL coaches are making the wrong decisions choosing the teams kicker. Granted you can go 90% during the regular season but it may not matter when you need to make the big kicks. Numerous times I have seen kickers getting picked up because of their strong leg, kickoffs or get great height on the ball. But can they kick a game-winning field goals like Adam Vinateri did in the Super Bowl a few years back. I think a lack of understanding of the position by special teams coaches, general managers, and scouts leads to these issues.
For example, lets take the San Diego Chargers. Due to the late misses by Nate in the playoffs I am sure they will bring a few kickers into camp this year as viable backups if Nate cant recover. The Chargers will send their college scouts, none of which, will have any kicking expierence, review the college talent and report back to A.J. Smith and company. After reviewing film and looking at their statistics they base their decisions on the numbers. Which usually means the college kicker or free agent that has a strong leg. How can they determine if he can take the pressure? How can they test for that? I think there should be more personnel, coaches, scouts evaulating kicking talent that have kicking expirence.
Also, kickers only get a special teams coach in the NFL. Do you think special teams coaches know anything about kicking technique or the mental kicking game. No. Where can they get help? Who do you think Nate Kaeding talked to after his first miss? Shawn Merriman? I am sure Antonie Cromartie had a few nice words to say to him.
If I was in charge of the specialist during the NFL combine, I would turn it up side down. I would pay people to sit in that stands and heckle them and then have all the head coaches stand right next to the kickers and see who would get nervous.
I do believe the kicking game has evolved where there will be more seperation of kickers and kickoff specialists. Kicking a ball a long way and kicking under pressure are very different indeed. I think there are more athletes kicking now and kicking further then ever before. But can they do perform under pressure. I have seen numerous kickers, friends of mine, get picked up just because they had a strong leg. I think the Dallas Cowboys have the right idea, with David Buehler (kickoff special), but need to find the right place kicker.
I believe you are born with ability to kick under pressure. It takes a special breed of kicker to have this ability. Kicking for an Arena team, college of UFL team may hone your skills as a kicker, but how can you train with 80,000 fans screaming at you and you have a whole city on your back.
Lets see how the kicker will fare this weekend during the NFL Championship weekend. Will Jay Feely, buckle under pressure? Remember 2005 when he missed 3 potential game winning field goals when he was with the giants? Or will it be Garrett Hartley? The Saints have a kicking coach by the name of John Carney. At least Hartley will be able to talk to someone if he misses one.
Video Link Jay Feely