New England Patriots K Stephen Gostkowski has been struggling with kicks this season, to the point where most fans can’t watch the television when he lines up for any sort of kick.
I guess this is kind of what the NFL had in mind when they moved the extra point line back, but Gostkowski was supposed to be the chosen one. He had been the best kicker in the NFL for the past decade. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Not like this.
But never fear, Gostkowski, because you’re not alone. Kickers around the league have been far worse, according to Football Outsiders.
While kickers have become more accurate over time, 2016 has been a major hiccup. Kickers have made 83.8% of field goals throughout the first half of this season, the lowest rate since 2011. Kickers are even worse when it gets cold out as field goal rates drop around 3% over the back half of the season. It’s going to get worse.
What Football Outsiders has noticed is that the missed kicks are fairly similar.
“In Weeks 1-8 of the last three seasons, NFL field goal kickers connected on 66 percent of their field goal attempts from 50 or more yards out,” Football Outsider’s Aaron Schatz writes. “This year, that number is just 52 percent.”
Gostkowski has missed a 48-yarder against the Bills and a 50-yarder against the Browns. This can’t explain all of Gostkowski’s problems, though- he’s also missed two extra points and a potential game-icing 39-yarder against the Dolphins.
But Schatz has noticed that kickers are less “clutch” this year, too. Kickers have only made 60% of “clutch” kicks this year (to tie or take the lead), versus 86% through the first half of 2015 and 81% through the first half of 2014.
So what’s the problem? I think kickers are having to adjust their kicking technique on kickoffs and that’s affecting their field goal motions. Gostkowski’s torque has been inconsistent on field goals and extra points, which means that his automatic kicking motion is no longer automatic.
Kickers that haven’t seen the same decrease in production this year include Colts K Adam Vinatieri, who doesn’t handle kickoffs. Ravens K Justin Tucker seems to be the only kicker to be thriving with all the new kicking rules. Perhaps Gostkowski can call him up for some advice; maybe Tucker hasn’t had to change his kicking motion as dramatically.
One last special teams note from Schatz- remember when the Bills punter bobbled the snap and ran for a first down? Even I just shook my head and laughed at how ridiculous that looked, and that it worked. According to Schatz, this was the second week in a row this type of play happened.
“Marquette King of Oakland did it in Week 7, and Colton Schmidt of Buffalo in Week 8,” Schatz writes. “The odds of these plays happening in back-to-back weeks are astronomical. I went back through our play-by-play files and there had not been an aborted punt-turned-first down in a dozen years...for an aborted punt-turned-first down, you have to go all the way back to Brian Moorman of Buffalo against the Patriots in Week 4 of 2004. To have these plays now happen in back-to-back weeks is just crazy. An equally crazy coincidence: two of the last three plays of this type involved a Buffalo punter against New England.”
Patriots and Bills. Let’s get weird.
Also, I wonder if teams should start faking punts more. I feel like return teams don’t actually wait for the punter to kick the ball a strangely high number of times per game. Maybe that’s something to work on.