Editor's Note - More great stuff from the Fan Posts. You guys and gals are a talented group. Great post, and keep 'em coming! - Guru
Hey everyone, I have been an MHR member for a few months and am a life-long Broncos fan from Virginia. I love the site and try to comment as often as I can. However, up until now, I had not created my own post, but something I heard on Sirius NFL Radio this morning got me to thinking about our hot, cold, and everywhere in between kicker. Randy Cross, co-host of the Morning Drive, was talking about touchbacks and how a special teams coach often will tell their kicker a few weeks into the season to favor hang time instead of going for the touchback every time. He suggested that this saves the kicker's leg from getting too tired over the course of the season and helps to prevent a low line drive kick from being returned. This is an interesting point and could, note that word, have something to do with Prater's recent performance. Let's hope so because the alternative is not all that promising.
Now, there has been a lot of discussion about Prater's apparent struggles as of late. Touchbacks in the past few weeks are rarer than a Raiders fan in a college class. Hayooo. His field goals? Well, let's just say there is room for improvement, but how much? Is Prater already fading like he did down the stretch last season? Let's look at the numbers, but let me first be up front and tell you all that I am not a stats guy and don't even play one on TV. I made my analysis on the basis of simple logic and not sound statistical principles that I undoubtedly furrowed my brow at in a vain attempt to understand in some college stats class.
Prater started out great in 2008. Here are his stats from weeks 1-7 courtesy of NFL.com.
13 of 14 (93%) field goals and 12 touchbacks.
Unfortunately, Prater started to fade fairly significantly after the bye.
12 of 20 (60%) field goals and 7 touchbacks (only 2 from weeks 11-17).
Prater ultimately finished fairly average on the year.
25 of 34 (73.5%) field goals and 19 touchbacks
After the season, Prater told the press that his leg had fatigued and that it had affected his kicking down the stretch That certainly seems plausible. His field goal accuracy dropped. No, wait, plummeted. Actually, let's go with dropped precipitously. In addition, his touchbacks all but vanished late in the season. Prater said that he was preparing this year to ensure it would not happen again. So where does he stand today? This is a smaller sample size, but let's take a look.
Well, things started out pretty well in weeks 1-4.
8 of 10 (80%) field goals and 9 touchbacks
Unfortunately, things have been less rosy in weeks 5-8.
4 of 6 (67%) fields goals and 0 touchbacks
All and all, things are going a little better than last year.
12 of 16 (75%) field goals and 9 touchbacks
I keep using the word unfortunately, but, unfortunately, this minor improvement still puts Prater in the bottom third of the league in field goal percentage--the league average this year is about 82%. Plus, his lack of touchbacks could be an indication that his leg is going gimpy again, this time even earlier. Ever curious, I wanted some context for evaluating Prater's performance over the rest of the season, so I looked at five of the better kickers in the league (Akers, Kaeding, Gostkowski, Gould, and Janicowski). Yeah, yeah we could debate these selections, but just humor me on this. Oh and before you even start, weight issues, hair cut, and team affiliation aside, I included Janicowski not for his ability to put down a foot long sub, but for his ability to boot touchbacks. Over the course of the 2008 season, these kickers together on average made about 85% of their field goals and had about 15 touchbacks. If Prater is going to keep improving and be our long-term solution at the position, he needs to be at least in the neighborhood with these guys, in my opinion. That means better accuracy and no late season fade that would prevent the occasional touchback if it is called for by the coach.
So my question, could Prater's apparent struggles recently to kick the ball out of the back of the end zone be due to coaching to save his leg from getting fatigued like it did last year? I sure hope so. We all know McDaniels loves him some hang time. Just ask our former punter. I like Prater and think he can be a top kicker in this league. I just hope he is being coached to kick the ball high and isn't fading again.