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Kicking football through uprights remains challenging for Vikings

December 6, 2018

There was a time, if you can believe it, that the Vikings enjoyed above-average, drama-free placekicking. Ryan Longwell started that path in 2006. Blair Walsh replaced him in 2012, and he was even better than Longwell as a rookie.

It looked like the Vikings were set for another decade at least.

Narrator: They were not.

Since 2013, Walsh, Kai Forbath, Daniel Carlson and Dan Bailey — all of whom have kicked as recently as 2016 — have combined to make 81.4 percent of their field-goal attempts. The NFL average has been between 84 and 85 percent each of the past five years, including this one.

On extra points since 2015, when the rule changed and made them from 33 yards instead of 20, those four kickers have missed a whopping 17 extra points — about nine more than the average team during that span.

How do we explain this lack of consistency and continuity? Here are some theories.

The Chris Kluwe factor

Kluwe was the holder on field goals during Longwell’s entire tenure here and for Walsh’s breakout rookie year. He was dumped by the Vikings after 2012, though — right at the point struggles started to creep in.

But … Walsh was still pretty good in 2013 with Jeff Locke as his holder, making 26 of 30 field-goal attempts that year. The Vikings also have employed Ryan Quigley (2017) and Matt Wile (2018) as holders/punters since Kluwe left.

The extra point rule

I’ve had a theory for a while that moving the extra point from 20 to 33 yards has impacted kickers negatively because every kick now is magnified and carries more pressure. It certainly was part of the downfall for Walsh and Forbath.

But … field-goal accuracy in the NFL has been basically the same since the extra point change. If kickers are more stressed out, they aren’t really showing it on field goals.

Bad personnel decisions

Walsh and Carlson were both Rick Spielman draft picks who had shaky senior years in college. Did that history indicate both were prone to having lapses? And did the Vikings/Spielman make a bad choice overall in moving on from Forbath?

These are reasonable things to question … but there is value in long-term stability at the kicking position and the Vikings have clearly sought that. And when they parted ways with both Walsh and Carlson, they added kickers in Forbath and Bailey who are among the most accurate in NFL history.

Questionable coaching

Special teams coach Mike Priefer has been a constant during the struggles, and head coach Mike Zimmer arrived in 2014 when the struggles really gained some steam.

Is there a technique or mental approach that Priefer is using that doesn’t help? Possibly, but he was also here in 2012 when Walsh was one of the NFL’s best.

Zimmer has been critical of kickers numerous times, but he would hardly be the first coach to criticize a kicker or be disappointed in misses — and if a kicker suffered as a result would you really want that kicker?

A curse

It’s fashionable to say the Vikings are “cursed,” but most reasonable people don’t believe in such a thing.

What I would subscribe to, though, is the notion of a collective weight accumulating and contributing to both an overall perception and reality of a situation. (Maybe that’s your definition of a curse. So be it).

That is to say: Vikings kickers become aware of the struggles of their predecessors. Misses become magnified because of that history, and even if Vikings kickers are just a little worse than league average it feels like it’s much worse. Kickers lose confidence because everyone fears the worst, and shanks become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But ... even if there is a subconscious awareness, does that really matter when muscle memory kicks in?

Conclusion

Maybe it’s a combination of all or some of these things.

Or maybe the best explanation is just a series of random events, human errors and the whims of an oblong ball.

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