November 6, 2011

Time to narrow the NFL goal posts

From Crossing Wall Street on November 2:
We’re nearly halfway through the [NFL] season and kickers have made a stunning 85.9% of their field goal attempts. In just ten years, kickers have increased their accuracy by nearly 10%. 
Not only that, but they’re kicking longer as well. So far this season, kickers have made 78% of their attempts between 40 and 49 yards. That’s better than the NBA’s league-wide accuracy from the free throw line (76.3%). 
And the numbers from attempts over 50 yards out are even more impressive. This season, kickers have nailed 45 of their 63 attempts from 50 yards or more. That’s more accurate than the league was from any distance 25 years ago. Since 1994, long-range accuracy has doubled and long-range attempts-per-game are up by more than 63% from just five years ago. 
Improved kicking is rapidly changing football strategy. In fact, this season is on track to be the highest-scoring season since the AFL-NFL merger, and kickers deserve a lot of the credit. Touchdowns-per-game are nearly identical to where they were 30 years ago, but field goals-per-game are up by 45%. 
This high-octane accuracy is completely new to football. In 1974, the first year when the uprights were placed at the back of the end zone, kickers made just four of 30 field goals from 50 or more yards. Jan Stenerud, the only pure placekicker in the Hall of Fame, made 66.8% of his career field goal attempts. Today that’s good enough for 105th place in career accuracy. Nearly every player in the top 30 for career accuracy is currently active. 
It’s not just field goals, either. NFL kickers have only missed two of their 546 extra-point attempts this year. That’s a success rate of 99.63% which would also be a league record. Think about this: There will probably be one-tenth as many missed extra-points this year as there were 25 years ago.

The NYT has a similar article today.

I have a basic rule of thumb that human beings find more interesting things that are closer to a 50-50 proposition. Field goal kicking in the NFL, however, has become more of a sure thing, which means that less credit is given to kickers for making a field goal than blame is given to them for missing. Call it the extra pointification of the field goal. The point-after-touchdown kick is a vestigial ritual that just makes games longer. Nobody ever is the hero for kicking the PAT that wins the game 28-27. 

One reason for the improvement is that NFL teams have perfected teamwork on the snap: they often have a deepsnaping specialist and the the punter is delegated to be the holder. Since these three guys don't have much else to do, they get really good at working together. Another reason is the spread of specialty camps training young kickers and snappers. This year, the first ever Sailer Award will be given to the country's top high school kicker.

Coaches are finally attempting more field goals from 50 yards or longer, and kickers are making 71% of them. This has given placekickers a moment to shine this year, but soon it will be considered routine to make 55 yard field goals, and kickers will remain uncelebrated.

As Eddy Elfenbein of Crossing Wall Street says, what the NFL should do to make field goal kicking less of a sure thing is to narrow the goal posts to make field goals more of an accomplishment. The NFL's goal should be for placekickers to be talked about as heroes rather than as screw-ups.

Ironically, placekickers might object because then they'd miss more PATs, and they would worry that they'd get fired more for missing PATs. But why not just eliminate the PAT and make the NFL touchdown worth 7 points? If you went for a 2-point conversion and failed, you'd have a point deducted. NFL games are ridiculously long as it is. The PAT mostly exists today for the sake of additional TV advertising opportunities.

58 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've always felt that the field goal that surpasses, say something like 54 yards ought to be awarded more than three points.

However, I never want the pros to get all silly like the college game with their OT rules. While it's exciting, I am not a believer that the way colleges play OT determines the better team.

Anonymous said...

Or you could make it like rugby. You kick not from the middle of the field but from in line with the point where the touchdown was made. Further out to the corners the touchdown is made, harder the kick.

Maguro said...

Another thing about the NFL that makes it easier to make field goals is that the hash marks are so close to the center of the field. In college, at least there's the possibility of having to make a kick from a tough angle, but in the pros all your field goals are more or less straight on.

Anonymous said...

Every single point scored in the biggest football game in the country this weekend, the LSU v. Alabama game that may very well have decided the BCS champion, was scored via field goal, including the 3 points in overtime that won the game for LSU.

What are the field goal percentages in college, I wonder?

Anonymous said...

And while we're at it - when are they going to raise the hoop in basketball?

Anonymous said...

"The PAT mostly exists today for the sake of additional TV advertising opportunities."

Huh? How does that work?

bluto said...

Anon @1:14
It works because there's an extra game stoppage post TD and post extra point. Eliminating the extra point would mean a single commercial break between TD and kick off.

I am a Cult, not a Cause. said...

Hey, how come there are no blacks in the kicker positions? Racist.

Hey, how come there are almost no whites in the running back positions? Reverse racist.

Hey, how come there are no Mexican-American linebackers? Xenophobic.

Hey, how come there are no women in the NFL? Sexist.

Anonymous said...

And so the PAT will never die.

It is also a ritual that permits the booth to relive the TD.

Darwin's Sh*tlist said...

So far this season, kickers have made 78% of their attempts between 40 and 49 yards. That’s better than the NBA’s league-wide accuracy from the free throw line (76.3%).

Surprising stat. I haven't played organized basketball in about 25 years. But I could walk into a gym right now and probably shoot 70% from the line. If I worked at it, I could approach 80%. I don't think that's unusual.

There's probably never been a time in my life when I could get close to nailing a 40-yard field goal. For a modestly-gifted athlete, doing the two things are nowhere in the same league.

MC said...

The AZ St.- U. of A. football game was decided last year by TWO missed PATs by U. of A., one at the end of regulation that would have won the game and one in overtime that gave ASU the win. So at least at the college level it isn't quite automatic.

Go Devils!

NOTA said...

It seems like this should change the strategy in the rest of the game pretty significantly. I mean, if you're calling plays, it really has to matter whether getting stopped at the 50 yard line means you lose the ball, or you have a significant chance to score 3 points.

I think changing the width of the goalposts would wipe out much of the work invested by existing kickers at all levels, so it wouldn't be worthwhile. OTOH, changing the points based on the distance might be worthwhile.

robert61 said...

How about requiring all punts, place-kicks and place-holds to be made by somebody who was on the field on the previous play?

edgy gurl said...

There are better games out there that take more skill and aren't so commercial. Find one.

Antioco Dascalon said...

You could eliminate special teams. You'd have to have a WR cross-train as a kicker. That would certainly make things more unpredictable.
Also, the comparison to free throws isn't really fair. What would the FT% be if each team got an extra slot devoted to a free throw specialist who shot all the free throws no matter who made the foul? I'd say that the FT% would be close to 100%. And most of those guys would be really white, or perhaps Asian. Can you imagine all the middle-aged white guys practicing 1000 free throws a day in hopes of making an NBA team as designated free throw shooter?

Anonymous said...

why not change the rule on extra points and make it be taken from a perpendicular line from where the ball crossed the goal line ,as is done in rugby (and thus varying scores)

Anonymous said...

Football is decadence at this point

Svigor said...

So now I gotta go look up the stats on what percentage of the points scored are owed to kickers, etc? For shame, Steve! I'm supposed to have that right in front of me by now. :)

Your logic is sound on bringing it closer to 50-50 to change the tenor of how kickers are portrayed.

But aren't kickers already the usual point leaders, and still no respect? I just checked Gewgle (NFL leading scorers 2011) and can't even get a straight answer. Why? Maybe I need to reconfigure my search. Or maybe, nobody who cares about the NFL gives a shit who the leading scorers are because they're always place kickers? If that doesn't tell you something about football fans...

ironrailsironweights said...

Eliminating the extra point would mean a single commercial break between TD and kick off.

Hence fewer ads for cars, beer, life insurance and limp-d**k drugs. Can't have that.

Peter

DCThrowback said...

@edgygurl:

No. The NFL is "Days of Our Lives" + "Real World" + "Modern Warfare 3" + "Stratego" + The Battle of Hastings. It might not always be this popular, but it will always be interesting. And wait, I can BET on it AND run a team like I am a GM AND play it virtually? (drools)

@robert61:

I like that idea, even if it makes Chad Ochocinco more of an asset than he should be.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=2rK5nQ2j4XM

Hard to fight the tide of specialization in the NFL though.

Steve has it right - bringing each upright in a foot or two is an idea the competition committee should look at.

@anon #1: I like both versions of OT in both CFB and the NFL.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 11/6/11 12:26 PM - or you could just play rugby.

Anonymous said...

" It works because there's an extra game stoppage post TD and post extra point. Eliminating the extra point would mean a single commercial break between TD and kick off."

There is no such commercial break. Watch a game.

Anonymous said...

How about allowing defensive players to run up the backs of their teammates to jump so that there will be more blocks? (Wasn't that legal once upon a time?) Blocked field goals are more interesting than plain old missed field goals.

beowulf said...

Come on people, the solution is obvious. Ban the place kick, thus requring use of the drop kick for field goals and PAT.

The only successful drop kick in the last sixty-plus years in the NFL was by Doug Flutie, the backup quarterback of the New England Patriots, against the Miami Dolphins on January 1, 2006, for an extra point after a touchdown... Flutie had estimated "an 80 percent chance" of making the drop kick, which was called to give Flutie, 43 at the time, the opportunity to make a historic kick in his final NFL game, the drop kick being his last play in the NFL.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drop_kick#American_football

beowulf said...

Here's a youtube clip of Doug Flutie's drop kick PAT.
http://youtu.be/P0Jsz-fSNd4

Anonymous said...

The 20 smartest athletes in sports.

anony-mouse said...

Hey, its called FOOTball

Anonymous said...

Widening the hash marks would do it--even a 30-yarder would no longer be a gimme if the angle were severe enough. I'd stet the extra point as-is, though. Yes, it's almost a vestigial organ at this piont. But bad snaps and bad holds still happen, and those are pretty memorable in a close game...

Anonymous said...

I, for one, welcome our kicker overlords.

Seriously, I kind of like the fact that there is a decent chance long field goals will be made now, as opposed to the old days when it was more of a cross your fingers and pray situation. And keep in mind, it's only three points. Touchdowns are still the name of the game.

I do agree that something should be done about extra points, though, to make them more than a pure formality.

Jerry said...

The unnecessary link to the NYT story pokes me in the eye. That newspaper is so dishonest politically that it should be read as rarely as possible. Why look at it, when other alternatives are there? Yes, even for sports. A lesson from life under Communism is that these things ought not to be compartmentalized. The NYT is a hostile entity in its totality, even if its sports articles are not biased.

Anonymous said...

I know next to nothing about football, so while this may sound naive, could someone please answer? Why won't each NFL team hire a single professional soccer player? At the top level, these guys can kick the ball with some amazing precision. I personally saw a guy putting 5 out of 10 shots into a basketball hoop from 90 feet away (that's a lot better than most people can do by throwing a ball). Or are existing NFL kickers already as good? Would most of them be able to execute William Tell type of kicks on a routine basis?

Svigor said...

Anon, if I had to guess, I'd say it's because the kickers they're working with are better.

How much incentive is there for a good soccer player to cross over, anyway? I bet they get less on a per-point-scored basis than any other position. And they get no respect at all. Soccer stars get groupies, right?

But wasn't that little Italian fella that played for the Bucs (and hilariously injured himself cheering a kick he made) a former soccer player?

Steve Sailer said...

Another point is that as kickers get better at kicks over 50 yards, that makes it too easy on the offense. They don't have to move the ball as far down the field. Back in the early 1970s, when the goalposts were on the goal line instead of the back of the end zone, the New Orleans Saints were trying to drive into field goal territory at the very end of the game. Hearing that the ball was on the 44 yard line, the head coach sent in the team's kicker Tom Dempsey to attempt what he thought was a 51 yarder. But the ball was on his own 44. Dempsey still made the 63-yarder to win. Everybody was happy for the kicker, who was born with only one hand and 1.5 feet, but it was pretty silly if a team could score 3 points without getting out of its half of the field. Not long afterwards, the goal posts were moved back.

Darwin's Sh*tlist said...

I've also wondered why, in this age of NFL specialization, that football teams haven't tried getting athletically-gifted basketball players on their squads as designated kick blockers.

There ought to be plenty of guys who are around 6'5" or so with great vertical leaping ability. Outfit them with the lightest gear allowable and place them in the middle of the line.

I'm sure that there are good reasons it hasn't been tried. I'm just curious what they might be.

Eric said...

This season, kickers have nailed 45 of their 63 attempts from 50 yards or more.

Well, if that's true why aren't they going back even farther? Or are these all 50.1 yards?

Steve Sailer said...

NFL coaches tend to be more risk averse than optimal. You are more likely to get fired for losing than for not winning.

I am a Cult, not a Cause. said...

How about allowing defensive blockers to be lifted off the ground by fellow players?

I am a Cult, not a Cause. said...

How about placing the ball closer to the line so that defensive guys have a better chance of either blocking the ball or sackign the kicker?

Garo Yepremian said...

Sailer's suggestion is reminiscent of (U.S. rules) football taking the post further back from the goal line. In about 10 years or fewer the kickers had adapted to the new distance. The analysis is lumbering under selection bias as well; teams didn't use to kick until 4th down, as a point of pride, but that world is gone forever.

As for PAT kicking it's a fun remnant of the earlier, now foreign-seeming gridiron of old that allows us to histrionically bitch out the guy .4% of the time for dinging it.

jody said...

if you narrow the goal posts, the white kickers won't be able to compete and only the black kickers will be able to kick field goals. oh wait...

i do think it will be funny in 2020 when the NFL has succeeded in eliminating all white position players, and 32 out of 32 kickers are still white. and yet even then, when the kicker misses some important 50 yard field goal, and everybody is wailing and gnashing their teeth and pulling their hair out, nobody will be demanding "the obvious", that one of the 50 afroletic blackletes on the team come in and replace these pathetic white guys who clearly "can't play" and have "limited upside".

why DO so many owners and coaches let "small, weak, slow, unathletic" white guys control the fate of their 1 billion dollar football teams on those no time remaining, last play of the game, field goal attempts? in the US at least we're told endlessly that blacks are superior athletes in every way. can't bigger, stronger, more athletic black guys kick field goals from 70 yards? 80 yards? why haven't black kickers revolutionized the game the way michael vick has "revolutionized" another weak unathletic white guy position?

(NFL scouting is so hilariously biased towards blacks now, in the last 10 years i've actually NEVER heard that a black quarterback has a weak arm. seems like every single one has a "cannon" or a "gun". not like those weak white guys! and their legs must be the same! "Cannon for a leg! Jethro Jones has a missile launcher for a foot!" - Raiders scouting report)

3 and out? more like 3 and shout! now the offense can take the ball at the 20, and if they go 3 and out, Jethro Jones nails an 80 yard field goal on 4th down every time! woo! shout it! it's raining 3s, y'all! we turnin' football into basketball! janikowski who? outta here, weak white guys!

it's time to break the color barrier in the kicking game. it's time to put some SOUL between those poles. end the discrimination against black kickers and punters. ken burns, call dan rooney stat and let's get another lawsuit going. the rooney rule needs to be amended. too many whites. NOT ENOUGH BLACKS!

jody said...

"I bet they get less on a per-point-scored basis than any other position."

most of the good NFL kickers make 1 million dollars a year, a couple guys even more, so they're definitely making more money than almost any american soccer player. MLS does not pay that much and there are only about 5 americans playing outside of MLS. although you were probably talking about soccer players from anywhere in the world.

using the crude "If they could, they would" rule, they'd be kicking 65 yard field goals for 2 million dollars a year - if they could. yes, i agree, that's not the definitive last word. i personally don't think the money argument explains everything in every sport the way some people do.

"I've also wondered why, in this age of NFL specialization, that football teams haven't tried getting athletically-gifted basketball players on their squads as designated kick blockers."

two things i guess. first, football players jump higher than basketball players (because they are stronger.) i'd have to go back and check for sure, but i seem to remember seeing that tim "can't play" tebow outjumped every NBA player drafted the same year as him.

second, even with 53 players, every last spot on an NFL team is important by about week 8, due to injuries. there's definitely no room for "field goal blocking guy" who plays no other position.

LOL @ Truth, who said tebow could never rush against the players in the NFL, who would "crush him". he just ran for 117 yards against 11 invincible black superhumans who are paid 5 million dollars a year to make sure that never happens. 117 yards in 1 game is more than vick or newton have rushed for in 1 game this year.

hey Truth: tebow played in the SEC. he did everything he did in NCAA football against the same exact players who are now in the NFL. but suddenly he can't outrun these guys because they are in NFL uniforms? don't listen to merril hoge, who took one too many concussions.

jody said...

"You are more likely to get fired for losing than for not winning."

another reason that "winning games" is not the only thing that matters and why "the best players play" is not always true. the coach's job is to keep his job. not win games.

starting 20 blacks is not taking a risk in today's NFL. that's called "trying to win" these days. even if 9 or 10 of those guys are actually scrubs, they're black. and you can't get better than black, is the general consensus.

starting more than 7 or 8 white guys though is a big risk and not only do you potentially draw the attention of the national sports media...you could lose. losing a couple games with that many white guys on the field...wow. that doesn't look good. it's always ok to lose lots of games with 20 black players, but never ok to lose them with "too many" white players

Steve Sailer said...

Maybe extra points should have to be dropkicked -- that would make things more interesting!

The amount of skill required to hit a 45 yard field goal is huge (just go out on the field and look at the relative width of the goalposts versus the 360 degrees of the horizon). The amount of skill required to placekick an extra point from about 20 yards is not, especially since the development of soccer-style kicking.

Anonymous said...

Why won't each NFL team hire a single professional soccer player? At the top level, these guys can kick the ball with some amazing precision. I personally saw a guy putting 5 out of 10 shots into a basketball hoop from 90 feet away

That's nothing. We used to do that in high school for warm ups before training.

Kidding aside, for all their practice, professional soccer players' set shots are wildly erratic. It's incredible how often these highly trained stars will blast the ball straight into the wall or put it six feet over the crossbar.

Oh, and the NFL has already hired a few Australian Rules Football players as punters, who seem to have worked out quite well.

Silver

Steve Sailer said...

I think the Aussies come over when they're getting a little old for all the other stuff in Australian Rules football, but can still punt like crazy.

Steve Sailer said...

The NFL had a lot of foreign placekickers in the late 1960s and 1970s, but, last I checked, every single NFL kicker was a white guy who at least went to high school in the U.S. I'm sure Beckham would make a fine placekicker with a few years of training, but I suspect that a lot of the American equivalents of Beckham (not fast, but with outstanding eye-foot coordination) go into the NFL after playing youth soccer. That may be one reason why American soccer isn't all that great -- the American Beckhams are placekicking in the NFL.

Truth said...

"LOL @ Truth, who said tebow could never rush against the players in the NFL, who would "crush him"."

I think you're reading invisible phantom posts again there, Jody.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to Svigor for reminding us that this blog is mostly frequented by non-sporting geeky geeks...

Click to ESPN, click on the NFL tab, then scroll down to "Player Statistics-Scoring" and you'll find that 14 out of the top 15 scorers so far this year are kickers, with Detroit WR Calvin Johnson tied for 9th being the only position player.

There are only 3 position players on the all-time scoring list: Jerry Rice (27th), Emmitt Smith (44th) and LaDainian Tomlinson (50th).

It's almost impossible for a position player to approach the kickers in scoring. Unlike backs and receivers, kickers aren't competing with other other teammates for scoring opportunities and accurate kickers also have much longer careers (the active guys in the top 25 all-time are all between 37-42 years old). You don't find many position players other than QBs playing past 35.

poolside said...

"MLS does not pay that much and there are only about 5 americans playing outside of MLS."

**

Actually, there are at least eight Americans playing in the Barclays Premier League right now, and many more playing in other leagues.

http://yanks-abroad.com/get.php?mode=players

I am a Cult, not a Cause. said...

Narrow the NFL goal post, raise the basketball hoop(with black domination in basketball, dunks have become easy and routine), and widen the soccer goal post--who wants to see a game end 0-0?

polymathblogger said...

An even better place to change the probabilities to be closer to 50% is penalty kicks in soccer; just move the spot further back. If goalies or shot-takers get too good, easy to recalibrate. And a hero goalie would occasionally stop all 5 kicks in a shootout, which would be a level of glory goalies never get to reach now.

Cautious Father said...

I enjoy the spectacle of football (college more than NFL) because I grew up playing and rooting for my favorite teams. When I occasionally catch a game, I appreciate the high quality entertainment production it has become since I was a boy.

Still, broadcast football is increasingly infected by PC nonsense like dimwit diverse broadcasters, pink shoes and any not-strictly-sport story on ESPN.

I can easily unplug the TV, but how do I have my boys understand and enjoy football without being programmed by the subtle and not-so-subtle PC dogma. I can turn down the volume, but it makes the game much more boring for the kids.

Anonymous said...

Widening the hash marks would do it--even a 30-yarder would no longer be a gimme if the angle were severe enough.

Not likely, remember the quality of kickers in the NFL is much higher than in the NCAA, just like at every other position. A lot of college coaches even at elite schools treat the recruitment of kickers and punters almost as an afterthought, look at Michigan under Rodriguez for an example. Besides, the current NFL hash marks date from what? 1972 or 1973, when as Steve pointed out the accuracy of pro kickers was much, much, lower. The pro kickers continued to improve massively since then.

Anonymous said...

An even better place to change the probabilities to be closer to 50% is penalty kicks in soccer; just move the spot further back.


The probability of scoring a penalty is supposed to be high, in order to deter fouls close to the goal. Make penalties more difficult and you'll see a lot more "professional fouls".

Another County said...

Two option for the PAT -
One, make it so that the kick must be at the 45 yard line, but keep the ball placement for the snap the same. The kick would be harder, plus the long snap process would harder, you might have to have the qb throw it back there. Or maybe the holder would rush back to get the ball in place.

Another option, which would be easier to implement would be that you have to kick your PAT at least x yards further back then the last team to score one. It would make for an interesting horse kind of dynamic. If you've got a guy that can kick 55 yarders, you back it up for the other team.

Anonymous said...

So uh, that phantom commercial break between TD and extra point is still in this post?

ok then.

I am a Cult, not a Cause. said...

How about giving one of the guys on the other team a long stick to bat down the kicked ball?

I am a Cult, not a Cause. said...

How about reserving the kicking position only for women or midgets? That way, there will be more diversity and fewer completed kicks.

PS:

How about adding a dog to each team?