There were a lot of changes with the Buffalo Bills in the offseason: coach, quarterback, running back, just to name a few.
One of the positions that appeared to be a lockdown sure thing was the placekicker. In his last two seasons, Dan Carpenter was nearly automatic, converting 90.5% of his field goals on average in his two years in Buffalo. Perhaps the pinnacle of his run with the Bills so far was the 58-yarder he popped in Detroit as time expired to lift Buffalo past the Lions in Kyle Orton's first game starting at quarterback.
So much for a sure thing. With the Bills bringing in Billy Cundiff, Rex Ryan has amped up the pressure on Carpenter even further. What started as a bit of a beef during training camp appears to be driving towards a breaking point.
I have tried to put together some of the pieces to what's up with Ryan and Carpenter, and it's interesting to see what happened in Ryan's previous head coaching situation with the Jets.
When Nick Folk was brought in as a kicker in 2010, Ryan proceeded to give him some rough treatment in the press. Folk eventually turned it around, and remains the Jets kicker today, even with a rather pedestrian FG% (81.0% in his 6 years in New York).
Perhaps that's why Ryan took the attitude he did with Carpenter during the 2015 Preseason. Of course, Ryan does have some history with the former Miami Dolphin. The Jets brought in Carpenter during the 2013 Preseason, the second such signing to compete with Folk. Guess who was brought in first? That's right, Billy Cundiff.
Now Ryan has signed Cundiff. A superficial glance might lead one to believe he would replace kickoff specialist Jordan Gay, who was released yesterday. Gay's touchback percentage has actually improved in 2015. I have a feeling that this is less about Gay and more about Carpenter.
One thing to consider going forward is that we're in a new era in the National Football League in regards to the kicking game. The line of scrimmage for the PAT being moved to the 15-yard line is a big change, and PAT conversion numbers are down a bit from last year. But when you do a high-level comparison last year's field goal percentages (i.e. not accounting for distance), things are pretty similar leaguewide.
So let's get to the question I posed in the title of this article. My hope is that this will end up a lot like the Jets' Kicker Survivor Island contest did in 2013, with the incumbent being the one that remains. When in his rhythm and comfortable, Carpenter has been an extremely solid contributor for the Bills, especially in tricky conditions at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Cundiff's numbers are not so impressive to think he's going to be able to duplicate Carpenter's production, especially from long range (where Carpenter has been excellent).
Even the career numbers inside 40 yards are lacking for Cundiff (135/156, 86.5%) compared to Carpenter (110/115, 95.6%).
The thing that worries me is that Carpenter's performances haven't exactly turned around with Ryan's public pressuring over the last couple of months. Also, when Miami brought in Caleb Sturgis to compete for the job, Carpenter ended up on the losing end of that battle. Carpenter really needs to buckle down and get through his struggles quickly.
We also aren't completely familiar with Carpenter's injury status. He did deal with some issues early in training camp, which may have led to the misses that bristled Ryan. If Carpenter can't be reliable any longer, a change should be made. I just lack confidence in Cundiff being a suitable replacement, and I fear Ryan may be driving away the best option.