Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Week 7 wrap

It was a good week for the kickers. Lawrence Tynes hit a 53-yarder as time expired to lead the Chiefs to a three point win over the Chargers. Atlanta punter Matt Keonen kicked a 56-yarder in a tie game with no time left, but it was disallowed because of a time out. Later 46-year old Morton Anderson won it for the Falcons in overtime. And the kick that made the biggest splash was the 62-yard three pointer Buccaneer Matt Bryant hit to stun Philly by two at the buzzer.

I've always thought the place kicker is of under-rated importance in pro football. The teams that have won consistently over the last 7 or 8 years tend to have top-tier kickers.
Vinatieri (formerly) in New England, Vanderjagt (formerly) in Indianapolis, Akers in Philadelphia, Wilkens in St. Louis, Elam in Denver and Kasay in Carolina all have career field goal percentages over 81 and the ability to hit longer kicks.

There are other kickers in the league that boast similar skills and numbers -- so having a good kicker doesn't guarantee a team that wins consistently. But it is unusual to have a winning football team with a below-average place kicker.

A great example of this is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers mini-dynasty of 1999-2002. They were able to win with different coaches, quarterbacks and running backs, but once place kicker
Martin Gramatica fell hard from his "automatica" perch the team's fortunes followed.

The Bucs also had a pretty vicious defense during those years, and I don't think special teams is as important as offense or defense. But it's not that far off -- especially when it's really good. Maybe a 40/40/20 split.

Yet kickers -- who are as important to the special teams as the quarterback is to the offense --are rarely drafted and get paid less than the other starters.

Since place kickers can use a tee in college I imagine it is difficult to evaluate their talent for a draft. But I'm surprised that kicker salaries haven't escalated, especially now that there are 32 football teams. The fact that 46-year old Morton Anderson is still employed suggests there is a scarcity of kicking talent in the NFL.

The New England Patriots have spent the past six years bucking conventional wisdom by not resigning players who appeared to be essential to their success. They let Adam Vinateiri -- arguably the greatest kicker in NFL history -- go this off season. If the Patriots end up in the Superbowl with their new, no-name kicker they will have gone a long way towards proving my theory on the importance of kickers wrong.

But if they stumble in the post season maybe the under appreciated, underpaid placekicker is more important to the team than a standout linebacker or safety.

Picks -- Neither my college or hometown gave me a competitive college football team, so I figure it's best to just ignore the sport. But I was in a lazy mood on Saturday and watched a couple games. I have to admit both the Texas-Nebraska and UCLA-Notre Dame games were thoroughly entertaining. I'm tempted to watch more college football games. It's terrible. Too much clutter.

Not as bad as my picks, though: 5-7-1 this week for a non-competitive 37-43-4 for the season.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am a former kicker myself and appreciate the kudos offered in this blurb. thank you.