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.
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!
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.