Tag Archives: Pittsburgh Steelers

The tactical interest in the extra point decline

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Tomlin is a two-point purist but more will follow his suit in the next year or so. Source: Fox Sports

The NFL set an unwanted record last week. Well, at least the kickers did.

The unheralded, first-to-blame, bit-part players missed a record 12 extra points at the weekend. Formerly seen as gimmes before being moved back last season, the extra few yards have seen some tumble into drivelling messes and this has been the culmination of what has been a poor year for kickers in general.

When a game will be forever known as the one where two easy kicks were missed, you know they are having a bad time. The 6-6 tie between the Arizona Cardinals and the Seattle Seahawks will live in infamy for two terrible field goal attempts that would have won it for either team.

With that, we look at the point after. It was moved from the two-yard line when it turned into an almost pointless exercise, with the knowledge that moving it to the 15 yard line still almost guaranteed a safe hit.

However, the 12 missed in Week 11 highlighted two things that NFL teams may need to think about next season. The standard of kicking across the league has regressed, with more long-distance kickers keeping their job over accurate, safe ones and now whether it really adds to the value of going for two points after a touchdown.

There are a few teams that are already moving towards that line of thinking. Mike Tomlin has had the Pittsburgh Steelers routinely going for two over the last few years, knowing that converting just one can give you a big boost against teams that aren’t as willing to risk it.

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Del Rio showed the guts to go for it and was reSource: SFBay.com

That can also become a disadvantage if you continuously go for it and fail. They were 0-4 against the Dallas Cowboys earlier this season, points that could have changed the complexion of the game if they weren’t constantly trying to make up for what they had lost.

But at the same time, converting the first can be such a big boost and would have negated some of the shortcomings, it’s a real tactical piece.

Take the opening game of the season from the Oakland Raiders, where Jack Del Rio was seen as ballsy enough to call for a two-point conversion to win the game rather than a kick to tie it. Sebastian Janikowski is one of the best kickers in the league, one of the most reliable and a sure-fire Hall of Famer, so why risk it?

Because they succeeded and won the game.

Many will cry that if they missed, they would have lost but that kind of attitude can really pull a team behind you. That’s not trying to say that the Oakland Raiders’ success was created solely from that but the early momentum it gave them was undeniable and that gutsy attitude has pushed them further than people could have imagined at the start of the season.

The hope will be that with these missed points, there’s a view to try and add to our options rather than restrict them. There were outcries to get rid of the extra point altogether, which is an interesting point but takes away some potentially exciting tactical ideas and opportunities from that.

What should take place is more two-point attempts, more risks and more teams willing to pile on the pressure if they can. Do you take the relatively safe, 95% extra point or the riskier two that could be the difference between a win and a loss? It adds an extra layer of intrigue, and that can only be a good thing.

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Helmet-to-helmet contact in the NFL needs to end

This was the hit, it wasn't at all pretty.  Source: stillcurtain.com

This was the hit, it wasn’t at all pretty. Source: stillcurtain.com

In a dirty, physical game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers that ended ugly, the one turning point of the game has been left in the background a little.

Sometime in the third quarter, Ryan Shazier created a turnover for the visiting Steelers as he forced a fumble from Bengals running back Giovani Bernard. The 24-year-old was crushed by a head-to-head contact hit, knocking him unconscious which caused him to drop the football.

No penalty was called on the field. Many were saying that after catching the ball, Bernard had done enough to be an active runner, therefore it was a fair play. The incident caused outrage on the Cincinnati sideline, ruling the running back out of the game and inspiring both the comeback and the blow up to finish the game.

What was more infuriating to me was not the decision by the referees, their hands were pretty much tied, but the reaction on social media that this was an okay, clean hit. A man was knocked out of a game, lost consciousness almost immediately and that simply can’t carry on.

Burfict needs to control his emotions and stop the dirty, dangerous hits.  Source: Fox Sports

Burfict needs to control his emotions and stop the dirty, dangerous hits. Source: Fox Sports

With the amount of people having to end their careers prematurely, with players in the concussion protocol every single week and retired professionals suffering a worse quality of life because of what they suffered on the field cannot be allowed to go on.

It’s highlighted in the new film starring Will Smith, which will cast many more eyes on the NFL as they should do something to prevent them from happening. The first move should be this, too many tackles are led by the head or aimed at the head, when you can bring a man down just as easily, just as impactful and safely with a lowered-shoulder arm tackle.

There is no reason to do it with your head. Look at rugby, where you can stop anyone’s momentum with your body rather than your head. A good move might to be to get rid of helmets but they are so iconic that it could be very difficult to do but it allows players to believe they can do things like this.

Those that, even more absurdly, think that concussions and head injuries come with the territory are deluded. It isn’t boxing, where the intent is to hit someone in the head, and players will certainly have not signed on to repeatedly have concussion-like symptoms for their career.

The Will Smith film concussion, out now in America, will only increase the scrutiny.  Source: Vanity Fair

The Will Smith film concussion, out now in America, will only increase the scrutiny. Source: Vanity Fair

I feel that the hits by Vontaze Burfict should also be highlighted as being very dangerous, as was hit unnecessary hit against the Baltimore Ravens last week. His suspension is justified and a terrifically talented player needs to reign his attitude in next season.

Also, credit to Shazier for tweeting that he didn’t intend to hurt Bernard, his celebrations on the sideline were clearly because he’d made a potentially big turnover but players know those hits are dangerous. They can cause an immediate stop to their momentum and can cause problems to the neck as well as potential long-term issues to the head.

In my opinion, hits like we saw by Shazier are inexcusable and are an archaic continuation from the older days of the NFL when head injuries were not as clearly recognised.  The fact of the matter is that consistently taking blows of that magnitude to the head, both for the offender and receiver, will end with both put them in serious risk of future problems.

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How did Jeff Fisher hang on to the St Louis Rams job?

Fisher has outstayed any welcome without much progress.  Source: theodysseyonline.com

Fisher has outstayed any welcome without much progress. Source: theodysseyonline.com

The St Louis Rams finished the 2015 regular season with a 7-9 record, their fourth season in a row under .500 with head coach Jeff Fisher at the helm yet there is not a great calling to make a change. In the modern NFL, that seems a little more than strange.

At the start of the year, they again flattered to deceive. They pulled out a gutsy performance against the Seattle Seahawks, fuelled by the young defensive tackle Aaron Donald having a monster game and showed everyone how could they could be this season.

In fact, against the two teams in their division heading to the post-season, they finished 3-1. They beat the Seahawks twice, they beat the Arizona Cardinals in their own back yard and yet again, they showed promise that they could hang with the best in their division.

However, against a relatively soft schedule, they also showed that they lacked the composure to beat the weaker teams of the NFL. Sure, they got wins against the Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but poor losses against the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens must sting when that would take you to a much more respectable 9-7.

Even against some good teams, they allowed their standards to slip enough just to lose. They lost close games to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings  but were soundly beaten by the likes of the Chicago Bears, who managed to put up 37 points, and they were humbled by the Cincinnati Bengals.

Nick Foles has been beyond poor and they need a replacement swiftly.  Source: Fox Sports

Nick Foles has been beyond poor and they need a replacement swiftly. Source: Fox Sports

It’s clear that despite the positives coming from the superb rookie season of Todd Gurley, this teams needs a hell of a lot on offence. They finished last in yards on offence and last in passing yards, showing that they don’t just need a steady quarterback, they need wide receivers and tight ends.

No pass catcher went for more than 700 yards, which is poor but when only three made it over 450 yards and the next best gained 250, that’s pretty appalling. Only three wide receivers caught balls for touchdowns this year, only one tight end managed it and no running backs caught it for a score either.

The shoddy play at quarterback was clear for everyone as Nick Foles threw for just 2052 yards for seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Case Keenum was slightly better, with 4 TDs to 1 INT in a couple of games but when the offensive line allows a league-best 18 sacks all season and the running back goes for 1100 yards in half of a season, that play is inexcusable and the trade was a huge mistake.

Their defence is exciting but at the same time, they finished 23rd in total yards allowed and were not good against the run or the pass. They got the quarterback a fair number of times, with 41 sacks and forced 20 fumbles, with 13 recovered but they were in the middle of the road on interceptions (13) and points allowed (20.6).

However, I think it’s fair to give their defence the benefit of the doubt. They were out there much more often thanks to poor offensive play and I actually think they have done pretty well considering how tired they must have been by the end of games.

Donald is one of the only bright spots this season, he has been sensational, Source: helmet2helmet.com

Donald is one of the only bright spots this season, he has been sensational, Source: helmet2helmet.com

When you combine all of that together, especially since they haven’t had any success under Fisher, why isn’t his head on the chopping block? He’s fired five assistants, that doesn’t include the offensive co-ordinator or even the quarterback coach but does include the WR assistant, but that doesn’t seem like enough to me.

While other former basement dwellers in his division used their young talent to elevate them to beat the strong teams in their division, the Rams are consistently stuck in the middle ground searching for relevancy.

It could be that the Rams are already in a difficult division, it could be that they have some promising youngsters or it could just be that they do not want to upset the apple cart before a potential move to Los Angeles.

Despite any of that, Fisher’s seat has to be the hottest of all of them heading into 2016. Failure again, especially if they do get their move back to California, and there can be no excuses should he be fired.

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Is NFL kicking going backwards?

The Jaguars, in particular, have been poor on extra point attempts.  Source: Yahoo Sports

The Jaguars, in particular, have been poor on extra point attempts. Source: Yahoo Sports

With the extra point moved back to the 15-yard line at the start of the season to add some excitement to something that was practically a certainty, it’s a good time to look at how kickers have stacked up this year.

Just eight extra points were missed in the entire 2014 season, with just six teams in the NFL failing to convert. However, this season, 69 attempts have been denied or missed and only five teams have remained perfect on the year.

That proves that moving it backwards has helped it from just being an afterthought, it’s caused some teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Jacksonville Jaguars to try more two-point attempts and has shown how crucial it can be to have an accurate kicker.

San Diego Chargers chose Josh Lambo because he had a stronger leg than Nick Novak.  Source: MLS Soccer

San Diego Chargers chose Josh Lambo because he had a stronger leg than Nick Novak. Source: MLS Soccer

In terms of field goals, despite it feeling like an odd year, there have been more teams with a 90% or better success rate than last season. There are three teams below 72%, which is abysmal, but the rest of the 22 teams are somewhere in the 80s, which doesn’t look that bad on paper.

2014 had more in the 70s (six to this year’s one, although there are two teams below that number) but overall there are pretty similar stats across the board.

There was an emphasis on kickers with big legs this off-season, with many teams choosing someone who could kick it out of the endzone on kickoffs rather than a solid place-kicker. However, that isn’t shown in the number of attempts beyond 50 yards (153 in 2014, 161 in 2015), which may be a sign that those who do have a strong leg may not have the accuracy needed.

Gostkowski has been sensational, as per usual.  Source: Press Herald

Gostkowski has been sensational, as per usual. Source: Press Herald

Stephen Gostkowski again shows that he is one of the best in the game and for good reason, he has missed just two kicks all year and is perfect in 51 extra point attempts. The two he has missed have come from over 40 yards (he’s 16-18, which is still pretty great) and is one of very few reliable kickers in the league.

While not a significant change, it is becoming more evident than ever who the real quality kickers are and how valuable they can be. Some teams have gone through so many different kickers to find a solution and there is likely to be a stronger focus than ever in the draft and during pre-season to make sure more get it right.

Overall, the standard only seems to have slipped because it’s the missed extra points that stick in the mind. They’ve cost some teams games and that stings a hell of a lot more than a missed field goal, what will be interesting is the comparison with next year and see how things go after a full year’s experience.

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