One of the biggest downfalls of Dirk Koetter’s time as head coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was the play of special teams.
The past two seasons, the field goal percentage in 2017 and 2018 were among the NFL’s worst ranking 28th both seasons. In 2017, kicking duties fell on Nick Folk and Patrick Murray. Folk only made 54.5 percent of his field goals missing most of them from the 40 yard range. He also made only 77.8 percent of his extra points. Murray made 82.6 percent of his field goals becoming more reliable and being near perfect up to the 50 yard range going 17-18, but 2-5 from beyond the 50. He was far superior with extra points with 95.5 percent made. The Bucs left 27 points off the board from field goals. They made 90.3 percent of their extra points.
In 2018, kicking duties fell on Chandler Catanzaro and later, Cairo Santos. Things didn’t really improve much as they combined for 76.2 percent accuracy. Catanzaro was near perfect up to 40 yards going 10-11, but missed all three of his kicks up to the 50. He made his lone FG beyond the 50. After his release, Bucs brought in Santos, but he wasn’t much more reliable. He did hit all his kicks up to 40 yards going 5-5, but he missed his long FG from beyond. The Bucs left 15 points off the board from field goals. They were worse making 84.8 percent of their extra points.
The top 3 teams in kicking accuracy in 2017 were the Carolina Panthers, San Francisco 49ers and the Los Angeles Rams, respectively. Graham Gano finished with 96.7 percent accuracy in FG, missing only one, and made 91.9 percent of his extra points. The Panthers finished 11-5 in 2017. This year, duties Gano was lost mid-season and Catanzaro was brought in for relief. Gano only missed two field goals this year and when Catanzaro came in, he made all his FG. However, the Panthers finished 7-9.
The Niners’ Robbie Gould is one of the most accurate kickers in the league with 95.1 percent accuracy in 2017, missing only two, and hitting 93.3 percent of his extra points. Despite his efforts, the Niners finished 6-10. The following year with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo out for most of the season, the Niners finished with a worse record at 5-11, but Gould took the top spot in accuracy with 97.1 percent of FG’s made missing only one.
The Rams had Greg Zuerlein and Sam Ficken share kicking duties with 93 percent combined accuracy- missing only three FG with a 94.1 percent accuracy on XP’s in 2017. The team finished 11-5. The kicking dropped off a bit this year with duties shared among Zuerlein, Ficken and Santos plummeting to 82.9 percent missing 7 kicks down to 19th in the league. They did have 96.2 percent accuracy on XP, but it should be noted Santos, who joined the Bucs later in the season maintained his 83 percent average carried over from the Rams. Despite having worse kicking, they’re still in the Super Bowl.
The current top three in 2018 are the Niners, New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons. The Giants had Aldrick Rosas both seasons starting with a horrible 2017 making only 72 percent of his FG missing seven of his kicks and making 87 percent of his XP’s. He exponentially improved with a 97 percent accuracy on FG’s this year and 96.9 percent on XP’s. The improvement didn’t really reflect the record since the Giants went from three wins to five. Rosas went from 31st in 2017 to 2nd in accuracy in 2018.
The Falcons’ Matt Bryant is the one kicker most Bucs fans wished hadn’t gotten away. In 2017, Bryant kicked 87.2 percent in FG accuracy, which was good for 11th in the league and made all his XP’s. The following year, along with Giorgio Tavecchio, who provided temporary relief during Bryant’s injury, the Falcons were number 3 in accuracy with 96.2 percent only missing 1 FG all season. The lone miss was from beyond the 50. They also made 95.3 percent of XP’s. Despite the special teams’ best efforts, the Falcons went from 10 wins in 2017and regressed to 7 wins this season.
Does kicking make that much of a difference? It seems not when you’re the Bucs, Rams, Niners, and Falcons. You can’t make a strong argument that it made the Panthers worse any more than it made the Giants better, because the difference is so miniscule.
Given how many close margin games the Bucs lost, you can make the case that it might have made a difference in a few of them. Would it have meant the playoffs? Likely not.