When Adam Vinatieri went down in Week 5 with a knee injury, Colts fans were concerned about who might come in to replace one of the most storied kickers in the history of the NFL.
Enter Matt Stover, who has done quite well in Vinatieri's absence. As a matter of fact, Stover has done so well that Jim Caldwell had the following to say when recently questioned about what would happen when Vinatieri was able to return: "At this point it's hypothetical. When he (Vinatieri) gets there and when he's healthy, we'll assess where we are and then make a determination on what's best for the team at that time."
That's hardly a ringing endorsement of Vinatieri and is not the type of job securing statement that an answer of, "No one loses their job to an injury," would have been.
So far in 2009, Stover has converted on nine of 11 attempts, missing once from 50-plus yards in Week 13 against Tennessee and from 32 yards against the Texans in Week 12, with a long of 43 yards. Vinatieri has converted on six of eight attempts this season, with a long of 48 yards.
Stover had been perfect through Week 11, but the fact that he's missed two of his last four attempts is troubling. Vinatieri has been touch-and-go since 2006, with zero conversions on two attempts of 40+ yards in 2007 and only a four for seven mark from that distance in 2008.
He is a perfect two for two from 40-plus in 2009 and so is Stover. At this point in the NFL, kickers are expected to make kicks from inside 40 yards, so what separates good kickers from great kickers is their ability to convert from beyond 40.
Vinatieri actually holds the edge over Stover from beyond 50 yards since 2006, having converted on two of five attempts, while Stover has made only one of four. It's rare that a team puts its kicker in a position where he needs to make a field goal of that length, since it's such a high risk, low reward proposition, but the fact that both men have averaged about an attempt per year for the past four seasons also points to low confidence in their ability to convert those attempts.
By way of comparison, Rob Bironas has been entrusted with 13 such attempts in the last four seasons. So, while neither man can be counted on to convert long attempts, it's important to note how each has fared between 40-49 yards since 2006.
Since 2006, Vinatieri is 15 for 21 from 40-49 yards (71.4 percent) and Stover is 21 for 30 (70 percent). Not much of a difference there, but the fact that he has more attempts — the 0-for-2 that Vinatieri posted in 2007 is probably a red flag — is evidence that he can be trusted in those situations.
Overall, Stover has converted 85.5 percent of his attempts since 2006 and Vinatieri has converted 82.2 percent in his time as a Colt. That also includes two banner seasons for each kicker, both in 2006. Stover converted 93.3 percent of attempts in 2006 and Vinatieri posted an 89.3 percent mark. When you take those numbers out, Stover has converted 82.9 percent of his attempts in the past three seasons and Vinatieri has converted 79 percent. It's a subtle difference, but an important one.
Vinatieri's pristine reputation has shown some warts since the end of the 2006 season. He did what he needed to do, he brought the team a championship and delivered some clutch performances, but it might be time to stay with the hot (and healthy) hand and trust Stover until such time as he proves unfit to handle the responsibilities of starting kicker.
The team has kept two kickers for the past two months and it has not affected their performance. Rookie Pat McAfee handles kickoffs, so that is a non-factor.
This is not a recommendation to cut Vinatieri, it is an endorsement to retain Stover and keep him in place as the team's starting kicker. If Stover proves capable, the Colts can make a decision at the end of the season regarding the kicker position. But, for something like this, it seems to not make sense to change horses in mid stream.
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