If there was ever a game prepared for a kicker, it was Sunday's Oakland Raiders contest against the Chicago Bears. The Raiders brought an offense with big play potential but with a low success rate against a Bears team among the league leaders in preventing successes. Many situations in football call for the coach to go for it on fourth down more often than we see in practice. This game, however, presents one scenario in which it is often smart to take the points if they're available -- the combination of a misfiring offense and a brick wall defense could tilt the field position game beyond reversal.
Of course, getting the three points on a field goal attempt isn't so easy as just calling the kicker and his support team onto the field. Field goals are risky propositions -- anywhere past the 30-yard mark and we encounter at least a 10% chance of failure. The lack of a capable field goal kicker could tilt the equation right back to supporting repeated fourth down conversion attempts.
But not for Oakland. Sebastian Janikowski, already one of the game's best kickers from deep, is putting together his best season ever. Entering the game he had succeeded on 16-of-18 kicks for an 88.9% mark, trailing his previous career high by less than one percentage point. By the time the Raiders dispatched the Bears behind his six field goals, he was 22-for-24 and the obvious offensive star for Oakland.
Janikowski didn't have to unleash the monstrous boot which has connected on 5-of-6 field goals from beyond 50 yards in this game, but he did knock in four kicks of at least 40 yards on the day. Although the kick in the NFL seems to be taken for granted at distances less than 50 yards, the success rate on 40-49 yard kicks in the NFL has been 75%. A one-in-four failure rate can hardly be ignored -- this past Sunday, the average kicker misses one of those four field goals from Janikowski. Beyond the field position ramifications of a missed field goal (another oft-overlooked aspect to the kicking game), the Bears could have been within a field goal of the victory as opposed to a touchdown in their final drive of the game.
Observe, Janikowski's contributions over the average kicker in a visual form:
With the struggles of both offenses to find the end zone -- the Bears due to too many turnovers, the Raiders due to a lack of success in the running game -- the kickers reigned supreme. The Raiders managed to give their elite kicker just enough chances to make a game-changing difference.