History Shows Concerns Over Field Goal Kicker Non-Issue At This Point
Contributed By Vince Grey
Many fans, and more than a few sports personalities, have been ringing the alarm bell ever since Dallas announced that David Buehler would inherit the job of kicking field goals for the Cowboys. This concern over having a reliable kicker may be justified, as a top-notch kicker is of extreme value to a football team, as evidenced by this study.
And to be sure, at this point, Buehler has offered little or nothing to give the fans a warm and fuzzy feeling about his ability to kick a football straight while being rushed hard by 11 angry men. Far, oh yes. The man can do far.
Accurately? Ah. . .well. . .therein lies the rub, doesn’t it?
Fear not my friends, for history teaches us much, if only we are willing to listen and learn.
Before the 1992 season, an ever-improving Cowboys squad looked primed and ready for a division title and a run deep into the playoffs. Dallas was young, talented, fast, deep, and well-coached by Jimmy Johnson and the gang. JJ firmly believed that in order to win a football game you had to win at least two of the “big three” phases (offense, defense, and special teams), so there’s no question he placed a strong emphasis on the performance of his special teams, including, obviously, field goal kicking.
After the `91 playoffs, Johnson went into that off-season intent on making a change at kicker. Ken Willis had been the man for the past two years, but after making an okay-but-nothing-special 72% of his attempts in 1990, he slipped to under 70% (69.2) in 1991. That, along with his weak leg, sealed Ken’s fate as a Cowboy. (After short stints in `92 with the Bucs and Giants, his NFL career was over.)
So, in need of a better option at kicker, how did Jimmy proceed to fix the problem? Did he spend one of his many draft picks on a college All-American? No. Did he trade for a talented, strong-legged vet with ice water in his veins?
Uh, not quite.
JJ decided that he would go into a season of high playoff expectations with a rookie free agent “nobody” named Lin Elliott, a man whose only proven skill prior to the start of the season was that he had a stronger leg than Ken Willis.
It would be a nice addition to the tale to say that Johnson used his keen eye for talent to uncover a future Pro Bowler who would go on to kick for many years with the Cowboys and others, but that’s simply not the case. Lin had a shaky start, but ultimately finished that season a solid 24-of-35, including 3-of-4 from 50+ yards. Dallas won its third Super Bowl.
In `93, things changed. Elliott began by connecting on just 2-of-4 FGs and an extra point, and then made the tactical error of informing Johnson that he had lost his confidence.
Oops. Two games in, Elliot was cut and no longer a Dallas Cowboy (he went on to have two very forgettable seasons with the Chiefs, and then he too was out of the league.)
So, once again, in a season where Dallas was attempting to win back-to-back Super Bowls, who did JJ pick for the all-important job of kicker?
Why, he brought 38-year-old Lions, Chiefs, and Bucs castoff Eddie Murray in off the streets, of course.
And the Cowboys won another Super Bowl.
Lucky you say? Perhaps once, but twice? In a row? No, that’s skill. That’s understanding kicking and kickers.
Catch my drift? Arguably the best coach of his time, loaded with Super Bowl-caliber teams, went into not one, but two seasons without anything remotely close to a “sure thing” at kicker.
Because there’s no such animal as a sure thing at kicker.
Folk proved last year that just as a rookie free agent can come along out of the blue and have a great year, a supposedly great kicker can suddenly lose his confidence and be cut. It’s the nature of the position. As a kicker, you’re only as good as your last game, and sometimes your last kick.
However, that can work both ways. It would not surprise me in the least to see Nick Folk rebound this season or next with a great year.
So, please don’t get all worked up over the Cowboys’ field goal kicking. Certainly not until the real games start. Buehler will probably do just fine. If he doesn’t, the Cowboys will simply bring in the next kicker on their list.