The Detroit Lions Are Showing Us Why Kickers Matter in Football
If you're of the belief that kickers don't play a big role on the gridiron, don't tell that to the Detroit Lions. Because through five weeks of the NFL season, the Lions are going through kicker hell.
Entering the year, rookie Nate Freese was their man, beating out veteran David Akers. After missing four of his seven attempts to start the year, the Lions cut him and brought in ex-Eagles kicker Alex Henery.
Henery was really good at missing field goals for Detroit, too. In two games, he went one for five, and now isn't part of the team thanks to the Lions parting ways after their Week 5 loss to Buffalo. Oh, and by the way - they lost that game by a field goal.
When a team loses a game by a field goal, it's easy to place blame on a guy who missed three during the contest. That, in essence, is probably why Alex Henery doesn't have a job right now.
But just how big of a detriment have Lions kickers been this year? Well, by using our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, we can look at exactly how many points these kickers have lost for the Lions this season.
With NEP, we're looking at what is expected from a kicker versus what actually happened. Thus far, the median NEP score for kickers has been 6.15. In other words, based on history, kickers are generally performing above expectation this year.
Only five kickers have negative NEP totals: Billy Cundiff, Blair Walsh, Mike Nugent and the two Lions' kickers. Not surprisingly, Cundiff is 6 for 8, Walsh is 10 for 12 and Nugent is 8 for 13. These guys haven't been perfect.
Cundiff and Walsh have lost fewer than two points for their respective teams. They really haven't done tremendous damage, losing roughly 0.15 points per attempt.
Nugent, on the other hand, has been horrendous this year. He's compiled a NEP of -5.16, which is 11.31 points away from the median kicker score. The Bengals have played four games, meaning Nugent, versus an average 2014 kicker, has cost the Bengals almost three points per contest this season.
And then we have the Detroit kickers. On seven attempts, Nate Freese compiled a field goal NEP of -5.43, the second-worst in the NFL. The worst score? That's come from Henery, who, on just five attempts, has a -8.15 NEP.
In total, Detroit kickers have a -13.58 field goal Net Expected Points score. Versus the median, these kickers have lost 19.73 points for the Lions this season, or 3.97 points per game.
The Lions are fortunate to be playing good football this year, sitting with a 3-2 record - their only close loss came last week against Buffalo. So while these kickers have given the team a huge disadvantage, perhaps only one loss can be largely attributed to their play.
Regardless, it hasn't been pretty, and it's on to kicker number three for Detroit.