For a sport that has “foot” in its name, the NFL has seemingly done everything it can in recent years to eliminate kickers from being as effective as they can be.
When the NFL moved the kickoff back to the 30-yard line, concussion concerns arose with more returns. So the NFL changed the rule for the kickoff line back to the 35, where touchbacks have become the norm – or players returning kickoffs from eight or nine yards deep. Last month, the NFL adopted a new rule pushing the line of scrimmage on extra points back to the 15-yard line because they had become so automatic.
As kickers have perfected their skill sets, it has become more and more challenging to make life difficult on them.
It would make sense for Minnesota Vikings kicker Blair Walsh to be miffed with the NFL for going out its way to make his job more difficult, but he has just the opposite take on it. He sees the more difficult extra point as a badge of honor for himself and his kicking brethren.
“It’s a compliment in its own way,” Walsh said. “It’s a testament to how good the guys have become and how accurate they’ve become. They’re keeping us involved in the game, which we can’t complain about. It will be interesting.”
Walsh doesn’t anticipate there being much of a change in the way things have gone in the past. Two-point conversions typically hit at about a 50 percent success rate, while extra points have been all but automatic. Moving the line of scrimmage back 13 yards will make it more difficult, but still the much safer percentage option is to continue to go for one point after a touchdown.
“The numbers I’ve seen says the success rate on 33-yard field goals is at about 92 or 93 percent, which is a drop from the 99-plus percent from the 10-yard line where the extra points used to be,” Walsh said. “There’s going to be more strategy involved and we’re going to have to be ready to make those kicks.”
It won’t be the same for every team with the change to extra point rule. For coaches like Chip Kelly, who don’t follow the conventions of how the NFL is played, he could be much more likely to take a chance on two-point conversions than others. But Walsh thinks Kelly and the Philadelphia Eagles will likely be the exception to the rule, not the norm.
“He’d probably go for two a lot, so it will be interesting for their kicker,” Walsh said. “As for us, we’re going to have to discuss the strategy and the situations. To be honest, I don’t think it’s going to change things in terms of how often you kick the extra point and how often you go for two as happened in the past. You can never tell what a team like Philadelphia will do because they don’t stick to the book at all times. But I expect most teams will kick extra points like they always have. It’s going to be on us to be prepared to make 100 percent of those kicks when we get called on.”
What will change for Walsh will be the emphasis put on the extra point and not being part of the 7 or 8 percent difference that is expected on field goals. The kicks will be tougher, but the expectation will remain that the kicker makes every one of his extra points that aren’t blocked.
The result has been that much more emphasis will be placed on practicing extra points, which, in recent years, had become almost an afterthought during the regular season preparation for the coming game.
“We used to practice just a handful of extra points a week,” Walsh said. “Now that’s gone up exponentially because it’s 13 yards farther back and you have more room for error. If you hook an extra point from the 10-yard line, it could still sneak inside the upright, but it probably wouldn’t from the 23-yard line. You have to be prepared for it.”
Walsh and other kickers are going to have to adapt to the new rule, but he doesn’t see it as a hindrance to those who play his position. If anything, it will provide further motivation to be as automatic as possible.
The biggest problem with the extra point is recent years is that kickers have become so proficient at their craft that the extra point has become almost boring because you make news when you miss one. The NFL is always looking to make every play as interesting for their fans as possible and putting more adventure into the extra point is the price kickers have to pay for their efficiency.
“The league wants to make every play as competitive as possible and the extra point got to be automatic,” Walsh said. “With all the talk of basically eliminating the kicker from the game – there was talk of abandoning kickoffs at one point – I’m just happy they’re keeping kicking in the game because it’s a big part of winning and losing in the NFL and, while I’m a bit biased on the subject, I’m fine with it because I think it will end up being good for the game.”
Walsh accepting the extra-point challenge
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