On the heels of Nate Kaeding’s implosion last week and Shayne Graham’s in the opening round, there will be an even brighter spotlight on the four kickers on the field this weekend. One former Chiefs kicker (no, not THAT one) and head coach weighed in on the league’s recent kicking issues.
“It’s the importance of the kicks that people are noticing,” former Kansas City Chiefs place kicker Nick Lowery said this week.
The postseason misses, most notably the five by the Bengals and Chargers that have helped the Jets reach the AFC title game against the Colts, have been the exclamation points to a season in which field goal accuracy sagged. League-wide, place kickers connected on 81.3 percent of their field goal attempts during the regular season, down from last season’s record 84.5 percent and the lowest mark since it was 81 percent in the 2005 season.
The dip in field goal accuracy from last season to this season broke a trend of steady improvement. That annual climb in field goal accuracy had some within the sport wondering whether kickers had become too good and if something needed to be done — like narrowing the goal posts, or widening the hash marks on the field so that some field goal tries would come from more severe angles — to make putting three points on the scoreboard more difficult.
“That’s funny,” said Lowery, who also kicked for the Jets and briefly for the New England Patriots during his 18-year NFL career. “When Dan Marino threw 48 touchdown passes [in 1984, then a single-season league record], they didn’t say, ‘Let’s make the ball bigger and heavier. Let’s have one pass rusher go unblocked every time, just to make it harder.'”
Others say kickers may have raised expectations to unreasonable levels with their accuracy in recent seasons.
“I think some of it is that kicking got to be so good, you’re seeing more field goals attempted from further away, and that makes it tougher on the kicker,” said Dick Vermeil, another highly successful former NFL coach who once coached special teams. “It’s like with the kid Kaeding the other day. He missed one from 57 yards. Your percentages on that one are not going to be very good. And then after that, it got tougher on him.”
“Maybe there was a mild case of complacency with last year’s success,” Lowery said. “Maybe people said, ‘We can put anyone in there and be successful.’ But would you rather go into the playoffs with a guy with a big, strong leg who’s a little iffy, or the guy you know is going to make that 40-yarder? When you have a kicker you can trust, you should keep him around whether he’s 18 years old or 108.”
Kaeding had the added mental burden last weekend of having failed in the playoffs previously, including the miss of a potential game-winning field goal in overtime against the Jets as a rookie at the end of the 2004 season.
“People think it’s so easy,” Lowery said. “But it’s impossible to describe how tiny those goal posts look when you’re standing out there.”
What, they couldn’t get a comment or two from the kicker that shall remain nameless?
Kaeding’s problems in the postseason make you stop and think about Ryan Succop. The Chiefs rookie kicker was amazing this year, but can you really know anything about the mentality of your kicker until he has to make a playoff kick?
If two of the league’s most accurate kickers of late — Kaeding and Neil Rackers — get the yips in a big spot, there’s no way we can feel totally comfortable with Succop until he gets to do it in the playoffs.