Sunday, January 30, 2005

This called The Show

OK, I was going to let this go, but a co-worker recently brought up Doug Brien’s missed opportunity to send the Jets back to the AFC Championship Game. Here’s the thing, of course Brien should have made those field goals, but either Herm Edwards, or Paul Hackett should have tried to get him closer for that first FG attempt. After all, once they got within 47 yards the Jets didn’t make any serious attempts to get any closer. Therefore I blame the coaching staff for setting Dougie up to fail. This isn’t the first time Dougie has been set up to take the fall for other people’s shortcomings. Hence, in defense of a good player I present an article that first appeared on this site in October of ’03. This one’s for you Dougie…

Owen Pochman is out (thank goodness) and the Niners will now turn to Todd Peterson to solve a kicking game that has been in flux since, well, since Ray Wersching left in 1987. Since then they have had adequate guys like Mike Cofer, Doug Brien, and Wade Richey. Some very good kickers like Jeff Wilkins and Gary Anderson. But mostly they have had spectacular flops, Jose “Clown Shoes” Cortez, Tony “El Bouquero” Zendejas, Jeff “Really? A 4th Round Draft Pick?” Chandler, and now, Owen “Cut by the Giants” Pochman.

Pochman missed 3 field goals last week in a game won by the 49er defense. This week he missed two more as the 49ers lost in OT to the hapless Arizona Cardinals. Now Pochman is out and SF will bring in Peterson hoping that last years 57.1 FG% was an aberration. While Peterson may help in the short term the 49ers kicking problems run much deeper and will not be solved without a change in organizational philosophy. Basically the 49ers have never cared about kickers, since the glory years began having a good kicker was considered a luxury not worth the expense.

This was fine when SF had Montana, Craig, Rice, Solomon, Clark, Young, Watters, Taylor, Jones, Frank, an great O-line and an all pro defense. Back when John Madden was calling out “Sooooo many weapons” and the Niners were in the NFC championship game year after year. But this is a different team in a different era. Dennis Erickson has not lived up to his promise to “open up the offense.” The O-line is shaky and SF is having trouble scoring points. This team that is not going to blow people away like they did during the stretch between ’81 and ’97. This is a team that needs to scratch out wins the way Carolina is with John Kasay (career FG% 80.1, 17/17 this year).

SF has made some terrible decisions with its kickers, here is brief over view:

Name Year Career% %When Cut Post SF Career
Ray Wersching ‘77-‘87 67.5 76.5 Retired in 1987
Jeff Backhaus 1987 50.0 50.0 Subbed for Wersching, never played in NFL again
Mike Cofer ’88-‘93 66.2 61.5 44.4% for Indy in 1995
Doug Brien ’94-95 80.5 88.2 Current 88.9% with NYJ
Tony Zendejas 1995 73.5 42.9 Never played again.
Jeff Wilkins ’95-96 80.2 88.2 Went to rival Rams and won a Super Bowl
Gary Anderson 1997 80.1 80.6 92.9% for Tennessee in ’03
Wade Richey ‘98-‘’99 72.4 68.2 Currently 1/1 with Baltimore
Jose Cortez ‘00-’02 71.9 75.0 With Minn. no FG attempts this year.
Jeff Chandler ’02-’03 73.7 85.7 Out of football
Owen Pochman 2003 47.1 53.3 Out of football
Todd Peterson 2003 77.8
(During this time they also cut Ryan Longwell and his career 81.1%)

Some analysis on the above list shows that the Niners had a decent run of kickers from the middle of 1995 through the end of 1997 which was also the end of the Niners great run (lost NFC Championship to Green Bay). Since then the Niners have suffered through salary cap hell and the premature retirement of Steve Young. But their inability and unwillingness to resign good kickers has cost them games over the years. They didn’t want to spend the money to resign Wilkins or Anderson. They ran out of patience with Chandler who was kicking well when he was cut. Brien was made the scapegoat for a slow start in 1995 when the real problem was that SF tried to replace Ricky Watters with Derek Loville. In both cases the quick hooks cost them games. They brought in Zendejas in ’95 who lasted three games and went 3-7 with 3 blocks (he was also 1-3 on PATs). This year they cut Chandler in favor of a guy who brought in a career FG% of 47.1.
If SF ever again finds a reliable kicker they need to keep him. Consistency is good, from 1981 through 1994 SF had three regular kickers. Since then they have had eight. If SF had a consistent kicker at this point they would be a least 4-4 (if not better) and still be in the hunt in the NFC. As it is they face a huge up hill fight to make the playoffs. You can overlook special teams when you’re rolling over fools to the tune of 42 point per game. When you fall back to the pack however, you need good special teams, coverage, returns, and kicks. After all, as good as the Pats were in ’01 it was Adam Vinatieri (career 81.7%) who won the game for them.

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