The further your opponent is from the end-zone, the less likely it is that they will score. This seems like a fairly straightforward concept, but it's something the Vikings front office (and most of the NFL) just doesn't seem to get.
Since the invention of football, kickers have almost always done both the field goals and the kickoffs. There isn't much of a difference between doing a kick-off or a field goal. This works out well for most teams as many kickers can boot the football pretty far. However, there are cases where a kicker can have very good accuracy, but can't kick it very far.
The previous sentence describes our own Ryan Longwell very well. His accuracy is near perfect, but he just doesn't do a very good job at kickoffs. Last season the Vikings ranked dead last in the league in kickoffs. Their opponents average starting position off a kickoff was at the 30 yard line, whereas the top-ranked Falcons kept there opponents to the 22 yard line. Eight yards might not seem like much, but it makes a big difference.
Most teams balk at the idea of signing someone simply to do the kick-offs. But as the following stats will show, this is something they (especially the Vikings) seriously need to consider.
The Importance Of Starting Field Position:
Here is a chart from advanced football stats showing the average points scored from any given first down position.
Vikings opponents scored an average of 1 point per drive starting after a kickoff.
Falcons opponents scored an average of .5 points per drive starting after a kickoff.
The league average would be somewhere around .75 points per drive after a kickoff.
Now the difference between these numbers seems rather small, but when you consider that a team will do about 75 kickoffs a season, it gets bigger. Over a whole season the numbers would read:
Vikings opponents: 75 points off of kickoffs.
Falcons opponents: 37.5 points off of kickoffs.
League average: 56.25 points off of kickoffs.
Obviously, this doesn't take into account how good or bad a defense might be. However, this does show that being able to make the other team start further back is a very good thing to do.
The easiest way to make sure your opponent has a long ways to go is to kick it deep and force them to do a touchback. Well, easy for many kickers not named Longwell....
Longwell Is Not Good At kickoffs:
Just look at the following stats from nfl.com and you will see exactly what I mean.
Longwell: 3 touchbacks, 30th in the NFL
Cundiff: 40 touchbacks, 1st in the NFL
League average (top 32): 12.28
League average (top 10): 22.6
Let's also the percentage of touchbacks per kickoff
Longwell: 4.6 % 35th in the NFL
Cundiff: 50.6% 1st in the NFL
League average (top 32): 19.5%
League average (top 10): 31.7%
All this is a direct result of how far the kickers can actually kick the ball. This is the average kickoff yardage (not including return yards).
Longwell 62.3 30th in the NFL
Cundiff: 71.1 1st in the NFL
League average (top 32): 64.86
league average (top 10): 67.42
Yeah, that doesn't look so good...
However, Longwell apologists will come up with a few counter-arguments in favor of not getting a kickoff specialist. Before I end this article I'll quickly refute all four of them.
1. Vikings special teams were bad, so it isn't Longwell's fault that they gave opponents good starting position.
Response: The Vikings ranked 32nd in opponents starting field position. Longwell ranked 30th or worse in three major kicking stats. Coincidence? I think not. Longwell was not a victim of poor special teams play. He was part of the problem.
2. The new rule change for 2011, moving the kickoff spot up five yards (to the 35), will help Longwell improve.
Response: If you had a group of 32 people and each of them grew 5 inches; the shortest would still be the shortest and the tallest would still be the tallest. So yes it will help Longwell....but it will equally help every other kicker. The Vikings would still rank 32th in opponents starting field position.
3. Longwell needs the kickoffs to see what the wind is doing.
Response: First, we don't play a lot of games in the wind. Secondly, when we do play games in the wind, Longwell could use the pregame time and maybe halftime occasionally to practice a few field goals. This is not a major concern.
4. The Vikings don't have room on their roster for a kickoff specialist.
Response: A kickoff specialist will have much more of an impact then say a 4th tight end or a 6th corner or whatever fringe player that would need to be cut.
The evidence is overwhelming and irrefutable. Longwell just isn't good at kickoffs. If it weren't for the fact that he is one of the best field goal kickers in the NFL, he would have been cut by now.
Getting a kickoff special who could be in the top ten in kickoff stats would be a big improvement for the Vikings. It would force our opponents to have to drive the ball further to score, giving our defense more time to stop them. Basically, teams would score less points against us.Overall, it would be good for our team and it is something I hope the Vikings do in the future.