Usually statistics don't make it through largely unnoticed, but one that hasn't received a lot of ink but has become a vital part of the game has been distance in the kicking game.
Kickers have made more news the last couple of years when the kickoff line was moved forward five yards and those with strong legs could all but guarantee touchbacks that would minimize the impact of return men.
Fred Cox holds the record for points by a Viking thanks to being the team's kicker for 15 years, from 1963-77. Back then, kicking was far from a science. For his career, Cox made just 62 percent of his field goal attempts, meaning he would miss about two out of every five attempts. He had only two seasons in which he made more than 70 percent of his field goals and he was viewed as a clutch kicker. Suffice it to say, times have changed.
If a kicker makes 70 percent of his field goals in the modern-day NFL, he is likely without a job. Only three kickers in the league made less than 75 percent of their field goal attempts in 2012 – Greg Zuerlein of the Rams (74.2 percent), David Akers of the 49ers (69 percent) and Mason Crosby of the Packers (63.6 percent). Akers lost his job because of his ineffectiveness, Crosby is likely following him out the door and Zuerlein's main excuse was that six of his eight misses were from 50 yards and beyond.
At a time when kickers are expected to make every field goal they try, they're getting closer to perfection all the time. Almost half of the league's kickers made 85 percent of their field goal attempts last year and only five qualifying kickers made less than 80 percent – which used to be the standard to determining kicker success.
What makes the growing accuracy of kickers more impressive is their long-distance kicking. There was time not long ago that a 50-yard field goal was a crap shoot – kickers typically missed just as many as they made. That was problematic because if a kicker misses a 52-yard field goal, the other team gets the ball on its own 42-yard line and are only a couple of first downs away from being in scoring position themselves. Missing from distance can be a game-changer, but it appears to be something kickers don't do as often as they used to.
Blair Walsh set a record last year by making all 10 of his attempts from 50 yards and beyond, but he was far from alone. As a group, the kickers that qualified with enough attempts in the 2012 season combined to make 62.5 percent of field goal attempts of 50 yards or more (90 of 144) – a total that is better than Cox's career average for all field goal attempts.
A total of 15 kickers made more than two-thirds of their field goal attempts from 50 yards or more last year, which points to the specialization that the position has undergone. In a sport where one or two critical mistakes can make the difference between winning and losing, it would appear kickers are doing more than their part to hold up their end of the bargain in a game that has become increasingly intolerant of failure.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Walsh not alone in kicking success
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