According to NFL Media Research, the 18 missed field goals and extra points combined in Week 4 (through Sunday night) were the second-most in a week since 2010. By the end of Sunday’s games, NFL kickers had made 198 out of 237 field goals this season for an 83.5 percent success rate. If this holds, it will be the lowest conversion rate since 2011. It’s a poor performance to be sure, but far from the worst the league has seen. Even as recently as 2005 we saw a lower success rate at 81 percent. Generally, field goal accuracy has been steadily rising since a post-2000 low of 79.2 percent in 2003.
So how worried should the league and coaches be about all the missed field goals? Not very.
If we expect kickers to make their field-goal attempts 84 percent of the time, based on independent Bernoulli trials, there is an 8.4 percent chance we would see a week where kickers would make exactly 57 of 71 attempts, as we saw in Week 4. There is a 59.4 percent chance they would miss that many or more. If we widen the sample size using the same method, there is a 45.1 percent chance they would make 198 or fewer out of 237 attempts as they have in the first four weeks of the season. That’s a lot of misses, but not cause for panic.
What’s the problem? Sample size could be part of it. But there’s another theory that might endure throughout the season. As the Post’s national NFL writer Mark Maske noted this morning, former NFL kicker Jay Feely suggests it may be a lack of confidence, and he may have a point.
Tension could play a particularly big role in the pivotal field goals from close games or with time winding down. If we look at “clutch” field goals, defined (arbitrarily) here as any attempt with two minutes to go in the fourth quarter or in overtime where the score is within three points, we see a dip in performance. From 2012 to 2014, kickers made 98 of those 130 attempts for a 75.4 percent conversion rate. This year they are 7 for 11, or 63.6 percent. However, another successful attempt or two and this year’s numbers are right in line with historical averages. So while we don’t have unassailable proof Feely is on to something, it is worth monitoring.
The missed extra-point attempts, on the other hand, are far more concerning.
The rule change for extra-point attempts — where the ball is placed at the 15-yard line for the extra point, making the kick a 33-yard attempt — is having the desired effect: teams are 283 on 300 attempts, giving them the lowest success rate since 1982.
According to Nate Jahnke of Pro Football Focus, kickers had made 97.6 percent of attempts from 30-35 yards from the center of the field over the past three years, so even this year’s conversion rate is lower than expected.
30-35 yard FG accuracy in 2013 and 2014 by location: Left Hash 91.6%, Center 97.6%, Right Hash 93.8%— Nathan Jahnke (@PFF_NateJahnke) May 19, 2015
If we go with Jahnke’s figure from center-cut fields goals 30 to 35 yards out (97.6 percent), there is just a 5.9 percent chance kickers would convert 57 of 61 PATs like we saw in Week 4. It drops to a 0.1 percent chance they would be 283-for-300 (or worse) at this point in the season, or something we should see once every 1,454 seasons.
The solution for teams? More two-point conversions.
Kickers converting the extra-point attempt 94.3 percent of the time results in an expected point total of 0.943 per attempt. Over the last five seasons, teams have converted 138 out of 283 (48.8 percent) two-point conversion attempts, creating an expected point total of 0.976 per attempt. In other words, the sudden rash of missed extra-point kicks makes it slightly more advantageous to go for two.
If head coaches don’t want to cross their fingers and hope their kickers will improve, they could always just put the ball back in the quarterback’s hands. The stats say that’s the smarter play.