On September 18th, New England Patriots K Stephen Gostkowski was warming up before the game against the Miami Dolphins. He lined up for a 33-yard attempt to conclude his warm-up.
I took that as a bad omen and when Gostkowski, who has been as automatic of a kicker as they come in NFL history, lined up for a game-clinching 39-yard attempt with 1:08 left in the game I had a sinking feeling. I knew he was going to miss it.
Now it’s never fun when you predict an unlikely outcome to come true- I also predicted the Bills would beat the Patriots- but I wanted to dive a little deeper into Gostkowski’s field goal woes.
Through six games, Gostkowski has missed four kicks: the potential game winner against the Dolphins, a 48-yard field goal that would have put the Patriots on the board against the Bills, a 50-yard field goal right before the half that would have buried the Browns, and then an extra point this past week against the Bengals.
There are a lot of theories as to why he’s struggling, but the most prevalent is that his kicking motion has changed because of the new focus on placement during kick offs.
Here is the missed field goal against the Dolphins, where Gostkowski doesn’t have the typical torque in his waist during the follow through. You can see his waist pointing towards the opposite upright and that’s exactly where the ball goes. Typically he would have a little bit of torque to spin the ball back to the middle of the uprights.
And here it looks like he’s overcompensating on his missed extra point against the Bengals.
And you can compare it to his kicks from last season, where he had just the necessary amount of torque in his follow through.
So whether Gostkowski’s problem comes from kick offs, as he’s trying to pin the opposing team in the corner of the field instead of kicking straight through the end zone, or some other problem, I think the issue comes with his hips and his follow through.
But I’m not a kicking coach so these are my unprofessional opinions. What I can talk about is whether or not sacrificing field goal accuracy in favor of field position is a good idea- and how Gostkowski’s decline in field goal accuracy might actually be justified.
Hear me out.
I’m not saying that Gostkowski should start missing more field goals. I’m saying that he deserves some time work through his problems because the Patriots’ kick off coverage unit is outstanding and more than makes up for the field goal deficiencies.
Now I’m going to use the expected points model when making this argument. When it comes to field goals or extra points, it’s pretty easy. Say Gostkowski is lining up for a field goal with a 50% chance of making it; that means the expected points are 1.5 (50% * 3 points). If Gostkowski converts, he’s added 1.5 points of value. If he misses, he’s lost 1.5 points of value (this is ignoring giving up subsequent field position after misses).
Over the course of the season, Gostkowski has added more value on kicks than he’s lost. But even if we just focus on the misses, where he’s given up an average of 0.94 expected points per game this season, the Patriots still come out ahead from the kick offs.
NFL teams return kick offs for an average start on the 26-yard line. Gostkowski and the Patriots force opposing teams to start on the league-best 22-yard line. While this yardage might not seem like much, opposing teams are expected to score 0.25 fewer points per drive against the Patriots than they would against an average team.
The Patriots are averaging more than 5 kick offs per game, which means that Gostkowski and the kick off coverage unit are reducing the opposing team’s expected production by 1.32 points per game.
So when we factor in the missed kicks with the improved kick off coverage, we see that the Patriots still come out ahead by 0.38 points per game. That number should continue to grow as Gostkowski figures out his field goal kicking motion.
Oh, and if you do factor in the field position given up- for example, the Dolphins were able to start their final drive on the 29-yard line with 0.87 expected points, meaning the kick presented a swing of 2.88 expected points in favor of the Dolphins- we find that Gostkowski’s missed kicks are worth 1.33 points per game.
And if you’re keeping track, that means that Gostkowski’s missed kicks have almost the exact same value as the kick off coverage unit.
So at best, Gostkowski’s new kicking motion is a net positive and at worst it’s neutral. I think that Gostkowski has earned the right to work through his kicking motion because when he does, the Patriots will have the best kick off coverage unit in the NFL and the best kicker.