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Why NFL kicking isn’t as bad as it seems this season

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Here’s what we know: There were more missed kicks in Week 5 of the NFL season than in any single week during the past 34 years.

Here’s how that makes us feel: NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Here’s how it should make us feel: Eh.

NFL kicking improved steadily over the past two decades, despite the introduction of rules that make it more difficult. The long upward trend shouldn’t allow one week, as shocking as it was, to overwrite years of performance.

In some cases, perceptions have been influenced by the timing of the trouble this season. There have been 11 misses that would have brought a team into a tie or moved it ahead during the final minute of the fourth quarter or in overtime. In other cases, it has been the volume. The Green Bay Packers and Cincinnati Bengals, for instance, combined to miss five field goals during the final three minutes of regulation and overtime. A sixth attempt, Mason Crosby‘s 49-yarder, finally won the game for the Packers.

So let’s take a broader look to separate anecdote from trend and better understand what has happened so far this season.

Was it as bad as it looked in Week 5?

For the most part, yes. Kickers missed 14 field goals and 13 extra points. According to NFL Research, that total of 27 was the highest number of combined misses since Week 11 of the 1987 season.

But that gripping data point was driven largely by the extra-point misses. You don’t have to go very far to find a worse week for field goals. In Week 5 of the 2019 season, for example, there were 17 missed field goals. In 2018, there were 16 in Week 5. And in both cases, those misses came on fewer attempts than they did this past weekend.

So what’s going on with extra points?

We should avoid thinking too deeply about it at this point. (That’s easy for most of us!)

In the first four weeks of the season, place-kickers converted 94.4% of their extra points. That’s better than the 2020 and 2019 seasons, over the same time period, and right at the league average since the NFL moved extra points from the 2-yard line to the 15-yard line in 2015. We should wait to see if the Week 5 downturn continues before worrying too much.

What about field goals?

Kicking accuracy has been slightly below average during the same time period, beginning with the 2015 season. Through five weeks, 82.7% of field goal attempts have been converted. That’s the second-lowest mark during the first five weeks of a season since the start of 2015, but not by much. The average between 2015 and 2020 was 83.6%, a difference of three additional converted kicks.

If you’re looking for an explanation beyond that, you might want to consider the surge of long attempts this season.

What do you mean by “long attempts”?

Through the first five weeks of this season, coaches have sent kickers out to attempt 61 kicks from at least 50 yards, including six from at least 60 yards. That’s eight more than the previous high since 2015 and 13 more than the pre-2021 average. The conversion rate has been a respectable 60.7%, but the higher volume has played a bigger role in bringing the overall average down than it usually does.

Come on. It seems like every important field goal is being missed.

There is no doubt we have seen a high number of missed field goals in clutch situations. In fact, there have been 17 such misses so far during the fourth quarter and overtime. But there have also been a substantially higher number of late-game attempts.

Here are the facts: Kickers have converted 88 of 105 such attempts for an 83.8% rate. That percentage is better than it was for similar kicks over the same time period in 2019, 2018 and 2015 and is, again, only slightly below the 84.5% average from 2015 to ’20.

So this is an issue of volume?

In many ways, yes. And one reason there has been a surge in attempts, especially from long distances, is the high number of close games the NFL has produced this season.

Through five weeks, there have been more winning scores in the final minute of regulation or in overtime (19) than in any season on record. The total of eight overtime games through five weeks has tied a league record. Overall, 21 games have been decided by three points or fewer, tied for the third most in league history through five weeks.

It stands to reason that there will be more high-leverage field goal attempts when games are close late in regulation, and especially in overtime. If the overall conversion rate stays the same — a not-unexpected outcome — there will be more misses to go with the increased number of attempts.

Aren’t there some kickers who can be relied on to rise above the average?

Of course. There are five full-time kickers who haven’t missed a field goal or an extra point this season: The Kansas City ChiefsHarrison Butker, the Chicago BearsCairo Santos, the Denver BroncosBrandon McManus, the Atlanta FalconsYounghoe Koo and the Cleveland BrownsChase McLaughlin. That list doesn’t include the Baltimore RavensJustin Tucker, who missed a 49-yarder against the Lions in Week 3 but made up for it with an NFL-record 66-yard kick to win the game on the final play. He’s pretty good, too.

In total, 10 kickers have converted at least 90% of their field goal attempts, and 16 have been perfect on extra points.

You seem to be making a lot of excuses for these guys.

Really, this is just about providing a fuller context for what has happened this season. It’s indisputable that there have been a bunch of high-profile misses. But they are coming in a season in which teams are playing more close games than usual, leading to a higher number of attempts. The actual conversion rates don’t look much different than previous seasons.

So there’s nothing to see here?

I wouldn’t go that far. Weird things can happen in kicking. But to date, there are plenty of non-performance data points to drive this analysis.

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Minnesota Vikings RB Dalvin Cook has dislocated shoulder

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Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook dislocated his shoulder during Sunday’s loss to the San Francisco 49ers, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

The team still is figuring out how long Cook will be sidelined, and an indication will come from whether it places him on injured reserve, which would sideline him a minimum of three weeks, according to the source.

Cook was carted off the field late in the third quarter and ruled out for the remainder of the game.

Coach Mike Zimmer did not have an update on Cook’s condition following the Vikings’ 34-26 loss to the 49ers but said the running back would undergo an MRI on Monday.

Cook was injured after being brought down by Niners defensive tackle Kevin Givens following a handoff. The running back lost the ball in the process of being tackled and immediately grabbed for his chest with his right arm when he hit the ground.

He remained down on the field for several minutes as athletic trainers tended to him. Both Vikings and Niners players knelt around Cook while he was moved onto a cart before being taken off the field and back into the locker room for further evaluation.

Cook’s day ended with 10 carries for 39 yards and six receptions for 64 yards. He was replaced by backup running back Alexander Mattison, who rushed three times for 8 yards and caught one pass for 2 yards after Cook left.

Information from ESPN’s Courtney Cronin was used in this report

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Carolina Panthers’ future at QB more muddled than ever after Cam Newton benched – Carolina Panthers Blog

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MIAMI – Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said it’s no time to panic after Sunday’s 33-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins.

This came a week after he told everyone to “hold on’’ and “trust” him following a loss to the Washington Football Team.

Maybe it is time to panic, because exactly whom can the Panthers trust?

Carolina is 0-2 since Newton took over as the starter, but as the Panthers (5-7) enter their Week 13 bye, their playoff hopes look to be on life support despite a 2-0 record in the NFC South and four of their final five games against division opponents.

This isn’t Newton’s fault. Newton fell into this situation when it became apparent that quarterback Sam Darnold, who the Panthers traded for in the offseason, wasn’t the answer even before he went on injured reserve with a shoulder injury.

But Newton’s poor performance Sunday magnified just how muddled the quarterback situation is for the rest of this season and the future. If Newton can’t rebound and prove he’s the answer beyond this season, what’s next?

Coach Matt Rhule defused any thought that Newton won’t be his starter when the team resumes play Dec. 12 against the Atlanta Falcons (1 p.m. ET, FOX). That his only other option is P.J. Walker — who replaced Newton in the fourth quarter Sunday because he had a better grasp of the two-minute offense — made that decision easy.

Rhule reiterated he didn’t plan to make a change at quarterback on Monday after reviewing film.

“I would absolutely anticipate starting Cam Newton,’’ he said. “That would not mean we wouldn’t play P.J. as well. That’s no slight against Cam. Keeping people off balance, maybe. But I don’t know that yet. P.J. has known me long enough to know I don’t make promises.’’

Newton promised to spend the bye week diving into areas of offensive coordinator Joe Brady’s offense that he hasn’t had time to after beginning his second stint with Carolina just two and a half weeks ago.

He insisted he can get comfortable enough that what happened Sunday won’t happen again.

But there are no guarantees. And if he looks as bad the final five games as he did in south Florida on Sunday, then the Panthers again will be in the market for a starting quarterback.

Fox analyst Moose Johnston emphasized that during the broadcast, saying the Panthers need to figure out the quarterback spot. He didn’t rule out Darnold getting an opportunity to show he can be a solution.

“But it’s still a position in flux for Matt Rhule,’’ Johnston said.

Rhule said Monday that Darnold (shoulder) began throwing this past week and will be evaluated when the team returns from the bye.

Barring a turnaround there, it’s clear Darnold will be the league’s highest-paid backup next season because the Panthers are obligated to pay the $18.8 million he is due in 2022, since they picked up his fifth-year option after acquiring him in the trade with the New York Jets.

And no team would take Darnold in a trade with that price tag unless the Panthers agree to pay part of his deal.

That’s not beyond them. They already are paying $7 million on top of the $10 million that was fully guaranteed to Teddy Bridgewater after letting him go to Denver for a sixth-round pick. The Broncos are only paying Bridgewater $3 million in 2021.

Carolina is taking a $4.7 million hit on Darnold this season, in addition to the $18.8 million next year, and it’s taking a $6 million cap hit on Newton this year with $4.5 million guaranteed.

That Newton is 32 and has taken more hits than any quarterback since 2011 because of his playing style complicates the matter further. He likely doesn’t have many good years left.

If Sunday’s any indication, he may not have any.

His 23.8 completion percentage was the worst by a former NFL MVP with a minimum of 20 pass attempts – ever. Peyton Manning had that distinction with 25% in a game in 2015, the year Newton won the MVP.

Manning retired after beating Newton and the Panthers in the Super Bowl that season.

If Newton doesn’t bounce back, the Panthers will be scouring free agency for a quarterback. It’s highly unlikely that if Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson left their respective teams, they would want to come to Carolina, so that won’t be the answer.

The draft, at least now, doesn’t appear to have any sure-fire solutions.

So Sunday’s loss and performance by Newton muddled everything moving forward. The only guarantee is that Rhule won’t overreact and he will continue to stay focused on the next game as always.

His first goal is figuring out how to beat teams that have figured out what he called the “formula’’ for beating the Panthers — stop the run and pressure the quarterback.

That the offense struggles against zero blitzes as it did Sunday complicates matters further. It’s hard to evaluate the quarterback when so many other things are going wrong, but there still are things Newton could have done to counter the pressure.

That goes back to making the right decisions, throwing to the right receiver, throwing with better timing — all things that were off against Miami.

“We need the quarterbacks to make plays and play us through it,’’ Rhule said. “The quarterback is only as good as the people around him, but he does have to make those people better.

“We’ll just evaluate everything each week. We’re not at the end of the season. We’re not making some global statement for the future.’’

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Sources — Dallas Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy tests positive for COVID-19

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Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy has tested positive for COVID-19, sources tell ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Dianna Russini.

McCarthy will miss Thursday night’s game against the New Orleans Saints, sources tell Schefter. The Cowboys are dealing with a COVID outbreak that had already knocked out starting right tackle Terence Steele, three offensive coaches and two of their three strength coaches for this week’s game.

A league source tells Schefter there are “up to eight positives in Dallas. Details still rolling in.”

The Cowboys are doing daily testing for players, coaches and staff and will continue through Tuesday. The league imposed stricter protocols this week, but the Cowboys were in that mode before Thanksgiving. They will have virtual meetings Sunday and Monday and could continue to do so on Tuesday as well.

Wide receiver Amari Cooper missed the past two games while on the reserve/COVID-19 list but is expected back in the building Monday.

The Cowboys have lost three of their last four games and play their next three games on the road.

Information from ESPN’s Todd Archer was used in this report.

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