If you think NFL kickers are having an off year, you’re on to something. But the kind of off year they’re having might be more telling.
Kickers have already missed more chip-shot field goals this season (seven out of 120 attempts from 20-29 yards for a 94.1 percent conversion rate) than they missed all of last season (six misses out of 236 attempts, a 97.5 percent conversion rate). Perhaps the most glaring examples came in a Week 7 tie in which both Arizona’s Chandler Catanzaro and Seattle’s Steven Hauschka missed game-winning field goals from inside 30 yards in overtime.
Dustin Hopkins’ shank in London on Sunday – which also left his Washington team in a tie– was from 34 yards, but he also missed an extra point this season.
Here’s where it gets interesting: it’s actually been a very good year for field-goal attempts from 40-49 yards. Kickers have missed only 27 attempts from that distance, whereas last season there were 75 misses all season. That improvement is even more pronounced without Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie Roberto Aguayo, whose three misses from that distance account for more than 10 percent of all missed attempts from 40-49 yards.
So even though accuracy is down overall this season, from 84.5 percent to 83.7, that’s despite a notably better performance from relatively long distances. (Accuracy from 50+ yards is a little bit down so far this year.) And in that strange overtime tie between Arizona and Seattle, both Catanzaro and Hauschka made longer field goals (45 and 36) in the same overtime.
What’s the reason? It could be an aberration; after all it’s been one half of a season and nothing more. But it could have to do with a chip-shot kick that isn’t being attempted anymore: the pre-2015 PAT. That kick has been out of the game for more than a year now, so it’s likely kickers aren’t practicing it as much (or at all). Meanwhile, the 33-yarder (now the PAT distance) is far more frequent.
It’s also possible general managers are looking for kickers who are better from longer distances: hence the Aguayo pick in the second round (or at least that was the intent) of the last NFL draft. He hasn’t attempted a field goal from under 30 yards so far. And the number of attempts league-wide this season from under 20 yards is only three; last year there was 10. If teams are going for two-point conversions more often, the need for accuracy from 40-plus yards is enhanced.
We won’t have a good look at the impact of the rule change for several seasons. But it’s something to keep an eye on as we get into the part of the season when weather makes kicking even tougher.
Of course there are kickers who are immune to any change in the sport. Adam Vinatieri, age 44, has hit every single field goal this year, and every conversion. If he keeps this up, it will be his most accurate season ever.
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