Why NFL Kickers Are Missing the Ball
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because ’tis the season to sound pigskin-savvy.
As if the NFL soap opera doesn’t already have enough drama, league directors decided to up the theatrics for the 2015 season by slightly lengthening the extra-point distance. (To recap for the truly clueless: That’s how far back the scoring team has to line up before kicking the ball through the uprights after a touchdown.) Now kickers have to toe the 15-yard rather than the 2-yard line. And sure enough, the football gods have delivered once again in making things interesting.
Three games into the season, NFL kickers have already botched
extra points, compared to only
misses throughout all of last season.
It’s a cruel lot for perhaps the most underappreciated — and pasty — position in professional sports. Last year, kickers boasted a 99 percent success rate, but even as they straddled perfection, we ask: Can you name one? Then again, maybe this rule change will bring a bit of notoriety. In Week 2, after racking up two penalties, Cleveland Browns kicker Travis Coons was 48 yards away by the time he lined up. When he booted the football through the goal post, Coons had claimed the record for longest extra point in NFL history. “There’s more pressure on them to be accurate,” says record-setting collegiate kicker Brent Grablachoff, “but it also means that kickers who make extra points consistently will probably get paid more too.”
Then again, it could make the kicker even more irrelevant. It used to be rare for professional teams to go for 2 points after a touchdown (that’s when the offense opts to line up at the 2-yard line and, essentially, try to score again for 2 points rather than 1), but strategies are shifting now that the extra point is no longer a gimme. The Pittsburgh Steelers have started their last two games by going for 2-point conversions (with mixed success).
Or … it could make no difference at all in the long run. After all, this isn’t the first time the NFL overlords have targeted the poor kicker. In 1974, the league moved the uprights back 10 yards. While kickers only made 92 percent of their attempts the following season, by the ’90s they were back up to 98 percent. FiveThirtyEight sports analyst Benjamin Morris isn’t convinced the move will create added tension. “Even if misses happen slightly more often, they’re still going to be infrequent enough that I’d guess they’re more likely to annoy fans after the fact than keep them in suspense beforehand,” he writes. In that case, I’m sure we can rely on the Pats to provide plenty of angst.