The struggles of Blair Walsh in recent weeks have been well-documented among Vikings fans. In his last three games stretching back to last year, Walsh has hit 3/4 extra point attempts and 9/12 field goal attempts. Hitting 75% of your attempts as a kicker is obviously not the greatest, and can often cause fans a certain level of indigestion. But has Walsh been kicking as badly as we all thought?
According to Reddit user /u/Tripudelops, not necessarily.
After Walsh's tough day on Sunday, Tripudelops went onto Pro Football Reference and analyzed Walsh's stats since he broke into the league. Tripudelops broke Walsh's stats down by year and kicking range, then compared Walsh's field goal percentage to the average NFL kicker from that season, calculated the difference in their field goal percentage and looked for any trends in the four years since Walsh has entered the NFL. Tripudelops also included data on the volume of both field goal and extra point attempts. It should be noted that these stats, unless otherwise mentioned in the summaries below the graph, do not include playoff stats.
We'll start with the first quadrant, 0-19 yards.
Overall, this is a pretty boring section of the field. Walsh has thankfully only ever attempted two of these field goals in his career and made both of them. An NFL kicker hasn't missed a field goal attempt from this close in since at least 2012. Moving on.
In the 20-29 yard section, Walsh has been asked (likely due the Vikings' struggles in the red zone) to take a slightly above average number of kicks (.32 more) from 20-29 yards out. The one kick that was missed in 2014 was recorded by PFR as a block by Jason Jones in the second Lions game that year, so he's made every kick in this range that wasn't blocked. And if you add in the field goals from the 2015 playoff game, both the one he made and the one he missed, Walsh's field goal percentage in this region drops from 96.77% to 93.93%, only about 3% lower than league average. Considering the number of field goals he's asked to make in this region, 31/33 is still pretty good.
Now we reach the area of 30-39 yards, which has largely been both Walsh's most prolific area and his most inaccurate. Since he's entered the league, Walsh has averaged nearly 2.5 more field goals a year in this kicking range and last year alone was asked to make 6.5 attempts more than the average NFL kicker. Despite this being his statistically toughest area to kick in, Walsh's FG percentage is only ~1.6% lower than that of the NFL kicker. It should also be noted that of the kicks that Walsh has missed from this region, 2 were blocked, one in 2012 and one in 2015.
While Walsh had a tough year at this range in 2014 statistically, giving himself a field goal percentage of 80%, the stats do show that he improved on his kicking from this range in 2015. His accuracy percentage would look better in 2015 if there hadn't been a sudden 4% increase in field goals made from this range by the average NFL kicker, possibly due to kickers receiving extra practice from this range due to the change in PAT location. His two toughest years at this range were while the Vikings were outdoors, so it should be very interesting to see what kind of further improvements Walsh can make when shifting inside again.
The range of 40-49 yards might be the statistical opposite of what happens in the 30-39 yard range, as Walsh takes nearly 2 kicks a season fewer than the average NFL kicker but makes nearly 2% more of his kicks from this range. The 40-49 yard range and the 30-39 yard range statistics are, without further study, possible indicators of the kinds of drives the Vikings have; they move fairly well between the 20s but stall out in the red zone, meaning fewer long-range kicks (like the 40+ yard categories) and more short-range kicks (0-39 yard kicks). Despite only attempting seven kicks from this range last year, Walsh made 6 of them, which pushed his FG% difference to nearly 10.5% better than the average kicker. Really the only "below-average" season he's had from this range was his rookie season, and even then he was just one kick away from having an 8% lead on average kickers.
Without question Walsh is still one of the most accurate long-distance kickers in the NFL, and he's asked to kick 3.25 more 50+ yard field goals a year than the average NFL kicker, an insane amount which honestly has likely spoiled us Vikings fans rotten. As noted by Tripudelops, Walsh's 2012 season might be the greatest long-distance kicking season of all time. Most coaches wouldn't even dream of attempting some of the kicks that Walsh has been sent out for, such as the 68-yarder in 2014 which looking at the video he was only short and left by about ten yards on, which is pretty incredible. He's also been sent out to kick in some 55+ yard field goals in crazy wind conditions, both at home and on the road, and as he mentioned in the press conference the day of the win, he was just trying to kick the hell out of the ball to get it anywhere near the goalposts, obviously not something that comes with a whole lot of accuracy.
Extra points were killing Walsh in 2015 after the NFL moved them back. He had only missed one extra point attempt in the regular season before last year, and his bad year in kicking extra points was notable among a 4-point drop in extra point percentages coming from the additional misses. While his miss on an extra point on Sunday didn't start the year off particularly well for him in that regard, Walsh has shown the ability to improve his kicking stats (especially in 30-39-yard field goals from 2014 to 2015).
Walsh in his career is one of the more trusted kickers, and you have to be if you're going to be taking nearly 4.5 more field goal attempts per season than the average kicker. 2014's overall FG% was tough on Walsh, but he had a number of field goals blocked that year and also attempted a number of likely ill-advised long-range field goals he had a near-zero chance of making. Even including his rather brutal 2014 season, Walsh is, according to the percentages, still a statistically above-average field goal kicker for us.
The Vikings ask Blair Walsh to take a ton of extra field goal attempts, especially long-range field goal attempts that most kickers aren't asked to make. Despite this, Walsh has finished with a field goal percentage higher than the average NFL kicker in three out of his four years (2012, 2013, 2015). Due to our issues in the red zone, we ask Blair to take a larger number of kicks in his weakest area, the 30-39-yard range, and ask him to take fewer in a range he's statistically more likely to make a field goal in, the 40-49-yard range. Oh, and despite his perceived accuracy issues, he's led the league in field goals made in both 2012 and 2015.
As for pressure situations, he's won us 2 games in 2012 (Jags and Packers round 2), won and tied us games in 2013 (Bears round 2, Packers tie), and 2 games in 2015 (Chicago round 1, St. Louis). The only game-winning field goal Walsh has had a realistic shot of hitting and missed was the one in the 2015 playoff game. Basically every other time we've needed a clutch field goal, Walsh has come through for us. Walsh will be just fine, and we need to stop going full-on Chicken Little on the coaches for not ejecting Walsh. We were unquestionably spoiled by one of the best kicking seasons a player has had this century, and without question one of the best long-distance kicking seasons a player has ever had. Statistically speaking, this is just a bit of a down patch for Blair, and he should soon be back to the above-average kicker we all expect him to be.
Special thanks to /u/Tripudelops for putting together this analysis in the first place, and you can find his work on Reddit here and the Google Drive where he assembled the information here. Permission was asked for and granted in using his analysis and stats for this article.