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Are Kickers Faring Worse In 2014?

Does it feel like kicking accuracy is down so far in 2014? Detroit rookie Nate Freese was just 3/7 before the Lions cut him on Monday, with all four misses coming in the 40-to-49 range. Bengals kicker Mike Nugent has also missed four attempts so far this year; for him, a 38-yarder balances out his 55-yard miss, to go along with a pair of unsuccessful tries in the 40-to-49 range.

Tampa Bay placekicker Patrick Murray had a 24-yard attempt blocked in a game Tampa Bay lost by two points. Randy Bullock, the Texans kicker who was Freese before Nate Freese existed, saw his 27-yard attempt blocked by Justin Tuck.1 Eight more kicks were missed in the 30-to-39 range, too, so if you feel like you’ve seen a bunch of missed field goals, well, I won’t tell you how to feel.

But are kickers actually faring worse this year? I broke down field goal attempts in three yard increments (18 to 20, 21 to 23, 24 to 26, etc.) for the first three weeks of each year beginning in 2002. The blue line shows the data from 2002 to 2005, the red line represents kicking from 2006 to 2009, and the green line covers the last four years. Since the data can be choppy, I included larger, smoothed lines, for each four-year period.

fg accuracy

The big takeaway from that chart is that over the last four years, kickers have become much better on long distance tries. For example, kicks in the 48-to-50 range were successful over 70% of the time, a when it wasn’t that long ago that such an attempt amounted to a coin flip.

Of course, the big question for today is what would happen if we plotted 2014 data (in black) on the same graph? Good idea!

fg accuracy 2014

Believe it or not, kickers have been better this year than they were over the past four years, especially on some longer distances. So while some misses stand out, there are three 3-yard areas where kickers have been lights out this year:

  • On kicks in the 42-to-44 range, the success rate was 67% from ’02 to ’05 (the “early period”), 72% from ’06 to ’09 (the “middle period”), and 75% from ’10 to ’13 (the “late period”). Well this year, kickers have made 12 out of 14 tries, for a whopping 86% rate.
  • A similar story unfolds in the 45-to-47 range. Kickers were successful 63% of the time in the early period, 77% in the middle period, and 76% in the late period before jumping to 86% this year. Think about this: on kicks from 45 to 47 yards, NFL kickers are 19 for 22 this year! That’s insane.
  • The 51-to-53 range is another sweet spot so far in 2014. The success rate here was 57% during the early period, 50% during the middle period, and 67% during the late period. Well this year, kickers are 10 for 10. Teams that have attempted a field goal from the 33-to-36 yard line are 11-for-11 this year.

There have been more short misses than normal — last year, teams did not miss a field goal in the first three weeks inside of 32 yards, while there have been three this year2 — but that probably is too small of a sample to get concerned about. In general, field goal accuracy is rising every year; despite what you might think, 2014 so far looks like another step in the same direction.

  1. Who is not to be confused with the near-automatic Justin Tucker. The Ravens kicker did miss once this year, but we’ll give him a pass since it was a 55-yarder. []
  2. In addition to Murray and Bulluck, Buffalo’s Dan Carpenter missed from 31 against Miami. []
  • Ty

    Somewhat Off-Topic (I apologize), but scoring is down from last year by about one point. I tried checking why, and the culprit seems to be less passing TDs (compared to last year), and slightly less plays per game. I would have thought with the new emphases on illegal contact, as well as teams wanting to emulate Chip Kelly, that scoring would gradually increase (the number of first downs by penalty certainly have).

    I can’t really explain the slight decrease in plays per game, but the decrease in passing TDs is likely due to the top QBs from years past not producing like they usually do. Rodgers has struggled (for his standards), Manning is still great, but isn’t lighting it up like he did last year, Brees is still great (but not as great as he has been in the past), Rivers has played like an MVP candidate (but because they run at a snails pace, his TDs are suppressed), and Brady has struggled badly.

    I know it has only been 3 weeks, but this is something that I will keep my eye on throughout the season.

    • James

      Wasn’t last year a particularly high scoring year? If it’s a real decline it could just be regressing some.

    • My take is that it probably isn’t a big deal. We always talk about how the 1978 rule changes set off a scoring explosion, but that explosion was hardly gradual, and it appeared to plummet after 1990. I say appeared, because hindsight shows that it was just a brief lull in the middle of a general upward trend. I think part of what makes this year’s decrease interesting is that it marks the first time since 2009 that we’ve seen a decrease at all. Since the merger, the only other 4 year span without a decrease was 1977-1981.

      Also interesting (maybe only to me) is that after 4 straight years of decline (1989-1993), it took until 2010 for the league to have a higher 5-year moving average PPG than the one from 1983-1987.

      The 1.1 PPG decrease is also pretty odd to see, given that most year-to-year changes are closer to .5 PPG. Here’s a table that I hope will work with pre tags:

      Year	Pts	5yrMA	N+1diff
      1970	19.3	x	x
      1971	19.4	x	 0.1
      1972	20.3	x	 0.9
      1973	19.5	x	-0.8
      1974	18.2	19.34	-1.3
      1975	20.6	19.60 	 2.4
      1976	19.2	19.56	-1.4
      1977	17.2	18.94	-2.0
      1978	18.3	18.70	 1.1
      1979	20.1	19.08	 1.8
      1980	20.5	19.06	 0.4
      1981	20.7	19.36	 0.2
      1982	20.2	19.96	-0.5
      1983	21.8	20.66	 1.6
      1984	21.2	20.88	-0.6
      1985	21.5	21.08	 0.3
      1986	20.5	21.04	-1.0
      1987	21.6	21.32	 1.1
      1988	20.3	21.02	-1.3
      1989	20.6	20.90	 0.3
      1990	20.1	20.62	-0.5
      1991	19.0	20.32	-1.1
      1992	18.7	19.74	-0.3
      1993	18.7	19.42	 0.0
      1994	20.3	19.36	 1.6
      1995	21.5	19.64	 1.2
      1996	20.4	19.92	-1.1
      1997	20.7	20.32	 0.3
      1998	21.3	20.84	 0.6
      1999	20.8	20.94	-0.5
      2000	20.7	20.78	-0.1
      2001	20.2	20.74	-0.5
      2002	21.7	20.94	 1.5
      2003	20.8	20.84	-0.9
      2004	21.5	20.98	 0.7
      2005	20.6	20.96	-0.9
      2006	20.7	21.06	 0.1
      2007	21.7	21.06	 1.0
      2008	22.0	21.30	 0.3
      2009	21.5	21.30	-0.5
      2010	22.0	21.58	 0.5
      2011	22.2	21.88	 0.2
      2012	22.8	22.10	 0.6
      2013	23.4	22.38	 0.6
      2014	22.3	22.54	-1.1
      • Guess not.

        • Chase Stuart

          Not sure what your tags were before, but I put in pre tags and it worked fine.

          • Strange. I must have lost them in translation somewhere. It is much easier to read now, unless you’re a big fan of jibberish.

            • Chase Stuart

              Did you use [ instead of < ?

              • I put an Excel table in a pre converter to make sure all the spacing was right, then I grabbed everything (or so I thought) and pasted it. I used <, but I may have (probably did) done something else incorrectly.

    • Richie

      I think the inline reply might not be working. This comment is a response to Ty.

      I think it could just be the result of a small sample. For instance, New Orleans is expected to be one of the better offenses, and they are usually better at home, but they have played 67% of their games on the road this year.

      If you look just at the average points per game for the first 3 games of the season, 2014 is only down 0.3 points from 2013.
      Here’s what I have, through 3 games the last 10 years:
      2014 22.3
      2013 22.6
      2012 23.8
      2011 22.5
      2010 20.2
      2009 20.7
      2008 21.6
      2007 21.4
      2006 18.0
      2005 18.9

      So in 2010, Bryan Frye has the scoring average increasing by 0.5 points over 2009. But looking at the first 3 games of the season, 2010 actually went DOWN 0.5 points per game.

      • That’s a great point, Richie. Ultimately, trying to come to conclusions this early in the year is going to end up making us look silly.

  • Richie

    110% accuracy, huh?

    How about the sheer number of misses this year? Have there been more misses, but also more attempts so that the percentages are not far off?

    • Chase Stuart

      Good question, Richie. Attempts are slightly higher:

      2014	196
      2013	182
      2012	197
      2011	189
      2010	173
      2009	180
      2008	178
      2007	192
      2006	184
      2005	162
      2004	163
      2003	176
      2002	177
      • Richie

        Thanks. 2004 and 2005 are interesting with their much lower attempts than the other years. Was there a rule change around that time?

        Another factor could just be what games people are watching. It didn’t cross my mind that field goal misses seem high this year. I watch a lot of Red Zone channel and then the Thursday, Sunday and Monday night games. But Red Zone channel doesn’t show a lot of the field goal attempts. I don’t think I’ve seen any of Freese or Nugent’s misses.

        What I have seen is a lot of helmets flying off during plays. For all the whining about concussions, these guys need to learn to wear helmets that fit and/or buckle the chinstraps properly.