Should Packers Fans Feel OK about Mason Crosby?
by Dan Conklin
August 30, 2013
After restructuring his contract and turning in another solid performance in the final preseason game, it appears Mason Crosby has locked down the Packers kicking job. For the time being, at least.
Anyone who has been paying attention to the Green Bay Packers during this offseason knows about the drama surrounding the kicker position. The strong-legged Mason Crosby has held down the role since the 2007 season. But last year, he went into a field goal slump that was about as bad as an NFL kicker could experience.
During a span of ten games beginning in Week 5 versus the Indianapolis Colts, Crosby only made 12 of 24 field goal attempts. Within that stretch he missed at least one field goal in eight consecutive games. There were also several usual field goal situations in which the Packers instead went for it on fourth downs or attempted a fake field goal.
Throughout the span, Coach Mike McCarthy showed remarkable faith in Crosby. Many other teams would have replaced their kicker with whatever unemployed veteran was still on the street. But week after week, McCarthy remained firm in his commitment to Crosby and to the belief that the beleaguered kicker would work his way through it. Eventually he did, going 6-for-6 in the final four games (including playoffs). But it was clear that such a poor performance could not be tolerated long-term.
So after not having had to face any competition in training camp for the past five years, Crosby began to feel the heat this spring. On March 26, the Packers signed University of California kicker Giorgio Tavecchio. Tavecchio had unsuccessfully battled for the kicking spot for the San Francisco 49ers in 2012, and would now force Crosby to have to win his job back for 2013. With the race on, Crosby responded quite well throughout the offseason and in training camp practices.
Until the fateful Family Night Scrimmage.
With a record crowd of 63,047 watching, Crosby melted down before their very eyes. He missed one of two attempts during the scrimmage, but then went 2-for-6 during a head-to-head kick-off with Tavecchio. Tavecchio hit 6-for-7 on the night, thus catapulting the competition to the next level.
Crosby responded pretty well after that, up until last week when he missed three consecutive kicks during a practice. That mini-meltdown quickly prompted the Packers to bring in yet another kicker, YouTube sensation Zach Ramirez. Once again, Crosby responded well to the challenge. He converted 96% of his attempts over two days, while watching Ramirez do the ice-cream-on-the-hot-sidewalk routine with a 6-for-16 performance on Tuesday.
Both Ramirez and Tavecchio were cut over the span of two days, and the job now apparently belongs to Crosby. Overall, according to Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press Gazette, Crosby has converted 89.4% of his field goals since the Family Night debacle, a percentage that would have ranked him 9th in the league last year.
The question is: Should Packers fans feel OK about having Crosby again?
The question is largely answered by whether or not one views field goal percentage as the only important criteria for a kicker. But the reality is that it is only one factor among several that needs to be examined. I don’t claim to be an NFL special teams coach, but as far as I can see, there are five things that are very important in a kicker, and when viewed in light of the frequency of occurrence, field goal percentage may not even be the most important one.
First, a kicker must have a strong leg and be able to kick off with depth, consistency, and adequate hangtime.
The Packers will likely kickoff between 90 and 110 times this season, and several of those games will be in cold weather situations. Crosby has a very strong leg and is pretty consistent in this area. He is not typically among the top league leaders, but considering the cold-weather situations and the types of calls that the Packers sometimes make, he is well-above adequate for the job.
Second, a kicker needs to be pretty much a sure thing for extra points.
At the NFL level, most kickers are, and Crosby has only missed two extra points in six seasons.
Third, you would like to see your kicker be extremely predictable (90-95%) for field goal kicks inside of 40 yards, and pretty reliable (70+%) for field goal kicks from 40 yards and beyond.
On his career, Crosby is 90% from inside the 40, and 60% from 40+. In this area, he is definitely below average. In fact, his average rank for field goal percentage before his dismal 2012 showing was only 21st in the league. But these numbers are a little bit skewed because Crosby is used for longer attempts more frequently than many kickers with weaker legs. In fact, seven of his twelve misses in 2012 were from 50 yards or more. Take these kicks out of the statistics and his percentage would have been 81%. So to some degree, we judge him poorly because he is used in low-percentage situations quite frequently. Nevertheless, he is not one of the better kickers as far as field goal accuracy.
Fourth, a kicker needs to be able to pull off an onside kick fairly frequently.
Onside kicks aren’t used very often, but when they are used it is usually during a very crucial situation. A kicker who is good at onside kickoffs can be a tremendous asset. In this regard, Crosby is quite good. The percentage of onside kicks that are successfully recovered by the kicking team is usually somewhere around 15%. Over his career, Crosby has a 33% success rate. But in the last three years, as he has refined his skill, he has gotten even better, with the Packers successfully recovering 75% (3 of 4).
Finally, a kicker needs to be able to make the tackle in those unfortunate instances where the kickoff coverage units break down and the kicker is the last line of defense to prevent a return touchdown.
Again, in this regard, Crosby is excellent, with a total of 17 career tackles. He isn’t afraid to get into the mix, and is of fairly good size for a kicker.
As with everything in life, there are always tradeoffs. It is extremely rare to get something that is the best in every possible way. You usually have to get the thing that is best in the areas that are most important to you, find ways to accentuate those areas, and find ways to compensate for the inherent weaknesses that may occur.
Kickers are no different. There is not a single kicker who is best at kickoffs, field goals and extra points, onside kicks, and tackles. Each kicker is a mixture of relative strengths and weaknesses. Mason Crosby is no different.
All in all, Mason Crosby is still a good NFL kicker. While I would like to see him improve his accuracy in field goals, other than that he is quite good in all of the other areas. And he seems to be responding positively to his challenge. Even counting the dismal Family Night outing and the one bad practice, his percentage throughout training camp is 83.5, something we all could live with. What has encouraged me this year is that after a bad performance he has always quickly bounced back. That says that he has come a long way in overcoming the mental obstacles that he struggled with last year.
I believe that Mason Crosby was the best choice this year for the Packers kicking position. I think he will show that last year was an anomaly and that he will bounce back to where he was prior to 2012. And since Mike McCarthy has said that there is "still a scenario" in which Giorgio Tavecchio is brought back, Crosby knows that the pressure to perform will continue into the season.
As well as he has responded to pressure this offseason so far, I believe that bodes well for his future as a Green Bay Packer.
Photo Credit: Associated Press