x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

In the NFL there are plenty getting their kicks

Dialing long distance for field goals is not such a risky plan as accurancy improves, writes Mike Tierney

The 63-yard field goal that San Francisco 49ers kicker David Akers converted tied a league record, but soon that mark may be the norm rather than the exception as kickers continue to get stronger and more accurate.
The 63-yard field goal that San Francisco 49ers kicker David Akers converted tied a league record, but soon that mark may be the norm rather than the exception as kickers continue to get stronger and more accurate.

It does not get more predictable in pro football than an extra point. A touchdown scored is a signal to head to the kitchen and replenish your snack bowl before the subsequent kick off.

You will miss nothing because these guys never miss.

Nowadays, the field goal, once fraught with suspense, is approaching the point-after for expected outcome.

Distance seems no longer a deterrent. The accuracy rate has ascended north of 80 per cent in recent years, and this season began with a statistic that boggles the mind. Of 72 tries, only five missed. That is 93 per cent.

PGA Tour golfers are less precise on four-foot putts.

This was no NFL weekend when chip-shots (football, not golf) prevailed. A half-dozen attempts measured at least 50 yards.

Four sailed through, including a game-tying 55-yarder by Minnesota rookie Blair Walsh at the last second and a record-tying 63-yarder by San Francisco's David Akers.

"It was one of those miracles," Akers said, but not really. He was connecting from 61 yards in warm-ups.

Taking a crack from the 40s once was considered a dicey proposition. No more. In Week One, 21 of 23 from that range were money.

Theories abound for the improved marksmanship, up from around 50-50 less than a half-century ago. Kickers are trained in specialised camps from an early age. Weight training develops strength, core training flexibility.

More athletic types are drawn to the position, many having excelled at football, called soccer in the States. The role no longer is reserved for guys whose safety is feared for on kick offs. Sebastian Janikowski of the Oakland Raiders (6ft 2 ins, 250 pounds) could pass for a linebacker, at least until he tries to run.

Kicking mastery has had a legislative effect with overtime. Beginning this year, each side is guaranteed one possession after too many OTs ended with one team winning the coin flip, picking up a few first downs and booting the game-winner without the opposing offence leaving the sideline.

Coaching strategy once was driven by field position, with coffin-corner punts that pinned back offences. Increasingly, it has been replaced by three-point tries from binocular range. Besides forcing rule-makers to consider tweaks that would take some of the "foot" out of football, the numbers raise an intriguing question about the NFL Hall of Fame. The success rate for Jan Stenerud, the only entrant who kicked exclusively, was 52 per cent, which would no longer warrant an invitation to training camp.

Does that portend a flood of leg-swinging inductees with far better statistics?

Not a chance. As exceptional as contemporary kickers are, they remain widely regarded as wimpy intruders in a tough-guy sport.

sports@thenational.ae

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