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Don't Hate the Kicker

Sixty-three games in the National Football League were decided by three points or less last year.  For Saints fans, there were five white-knuckled, nail-biting games – or as I like to call, more than our fair share.

Maybe it’s the intensity of a close game, or maybe it our high expectations – but in these situations, the kicker is either the hero or the villain.  He gets all the praise or is burned effigy.  As a Saints fan, it feels like we are in this situation more frequently than preferred, and we are all too familiar with the kicking woes of the last several years.  Which raised an interesting question in house…

Have kickers become worse?

Rather than wax and wane in unsubstantiated opinion, I pulled all the field goal attempts and made statistics for every team by yardage for the past five years (because really, what else are you going to do on an early Friday evening when the kids want to Toy Story for the umpteenth time?).    Here’s what I found:

  1. No, kickers have not become worse, in fact they are better.  In the last five years, the overall field goal percentage for the league was 83%.  From 2000-2005, the average percentage was 78%.
  2. Not so much for you, Saints fans.  In the past five years, field goal percentage averaged 80%, versus 82% in the 2000-2005 time frame
  3. 2007 was the most painful.  Saints averaged 68% in 2007 versus the league average of 83%
  4. There is a “Saints Sweet Spot”.  Between 30-49 yards lines, the Saints kicking percentage is reasonably close to the league average.
  5. Anything can happen at 50+ for any team…and honestly, do you expect that kick to be made?

Interesting factoids, but does this mean anything to the organization?  Probably not.  However, the Saints making 88% of attempts from 20-29 versus the league average of 96% over the past five years was shocking.  These are the missed “chip shots” that sent pillows flying and prompted sailor cursing in Saints fans’ living rooms.  Attempts in this range are the equivalent of free throws in basketball – and you know how fans feel when they miss!  More alarming for Saints fans is that this is the AVERAGE.  In 2010, Saints kicking was 63% from this yardage – worst in the league, with the Seahawks and Bengals being a distant second to last (83%).

What this means to the coaching staff is exactly what you have seen Sean Payton do.  Be aggressive as the offense marches towards the red zone.  Going for it on 4th downs.  Makes sense – we may actually stand a better shot of scoring a touchdown than putting up three.  This may be why we see Drew Brees sometimes hold on to the ball and try to make something happen, as noted in the last post (Houston: We Have a Problem).

Being scarred by low kicking percentages and missed field goals in tight games has been tough for fans.  And based on this analysis, seems like you should hate the kicker.  For those fans I have four words for you…”Garrett Hartley” and “Superbowl bound”.' dat's dat!