Explaining The Blair Walsh Missed Field Goal

The NFC Wild Card matchup between the Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings came down to a last-second kick by Blair Walsh of the Vikings. With 26 seconds left on the clock, Walsh was called in to make a 27-yard field goal from the left hash. When he missed, the Internet simultaneously lost its mind and we saw a plethora of kicking experts reveal themselves on Twitter despite having never kicked a football in any conditions. Chuck Zodda breaks down why Walsh missed the kick.

Blair Walsh takes a standard three-steps-back, two-steps-over setup that is common for most NFL kickers:Walsh Miss
The pre-kick alignment is done with the center upright as the target, meaning that regardless of where the kick is coming from on the field, it is always lined up to the center of the target. This means that Walsh does not need to adjust his steps or try to curve the ball in any way. He simply angles his approach, and then takes the same swing he always does, trying to drive the ball straight through the uprights.

The snap on an NFL field goal or extra point is 8 yards, and should be at the left shoulder of the holder for a right-footed kicker. Almost as important, the goal of a long snapper is to match up the rotational speed to the speed of the snap in such a way that the holder typically does not have to do much work spinning the ball to have the laces facing out. While the primary responsibility is to get the ball to the holder, NFL snappers need to be able to adjust the number of rotations on the ball to account for different grip conditions.

Long snapper Kevin McDermott (#47) fires the ball back to holder Jeff Locke (#18):Walsh-Miss-2

Walsh takes a jab step with his left foot, as is common for many kickers in today’s NFL. The snap is right on the money, directly at the left shoulder of Locke. However, the laces are facing directly down instead of straight up, meaning Locke needs to spin the ball 180 degrees to face them away from Walsh. If Locke cannot complete a full turn, he risks having the laces at an angle and creating an uneven contact point for Walsh. With Locke wearing gloves because of the extreme cold, he opts to place the ball as it is, rather than attempting a spin with an unfamiliar grip.

While striking the laces directly may cause some variation with the flight of the ball, it is more likely to result in a loss of distance due to the maximum compression not being applied directly to the football than side-to-side action. Off-center laces may cause a hook or slice, but a direct impact does not usually result in significant movement in these ways.

It is important to note that McDermott and Locke had struggled with these issues throughout the game, and had likely discussed the situation with Walsh. These decisions do not happen in a vacuum, and the entire battery was likely aware this was the course of action in the event of a snap without the proper rotation. Kickers and holders enjoy a unique relationship, in that the kicker is incredibly dependent on the holder to complete his job. A holder is not going to change tactics without discussing it first with his kicker, as the goal is to have as few surprises as possible during the 1.2 seconds from snap to kick.

Here is the close-up view as Walsh approaches the ball:Walsh-Close-Up-1

Locke has the ball down with the laces facing back. Many people have suggested that this was a poor hold because of the fact it was angled toward Locke. However, most kickers prefer a ball tilted slightly away from them as they kick, as it creates a rounder and smoother surface for them to strike, as well as correcting for the tendency of a ball placed straight down to hook. The angle used here is appropriate and typical for an NFL kicker, and in no way caused any of the problems on this kick.

However, there is a critical error as Walsh makes his plant:Walsh-Miss-3

Walsh plants only 3-4 inches from the ball as opposed to his standard 6-8. This is more clearly seen in the close-up view:Walsh-Close-Up-2

There is barely any daylight between Walsh’s foot and the ball. Compare this to Walsh’s typical plant from two kicks earlier in the season:Walsh-Typical-Plant-1

Walsh-Typical-Plant-2

In both of these kicks, there is significantly more distance between Walsh’s plant foot and the ball.

Why is this important?

The leg swing on a field goal or extra point is similar to a golf swing in that a kicker is trying to take rotational force and impart it directly through the ball. This requires creating a stable swing plane that comes at an angle to the ball but that is moving directly through the target at impact. If a kicker is too far from a ball, he will spin off the ball and hit a ball with a weak, slicing flight, just like a golfer swinging from the outside-in. Likewise, if a kicker is too close to the ball, his leg will not have adequate distance to swing, and he will whip around the outside of the ball, hitting a low, hooking shot.

This is part of what happens here. Walsh does not have sufficient clearance for his foot to move directly through the ball. While a kicker typically tries to make contact with the hard bone on top of his foot, Walsh instead makes contact closer to his ankle:Walsh-Close-Up-3

Remember that the laces were dead-center when Locke placed the ball. Walsh is now making contact with nearly the top of his cleat as his foot wraps around this ball. In this part of the foot, there are a number of uneven surfaces – the cleat line, ankle bone, and tongue of the shoe all come to mind as potential contact points here. Any one of these surfaces interacting with the laces could have caused the trajectory we witnessed, and it is likely the interaction of this and the laces back that were the reasons for the miss.

[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Walsh-Close-Up-Miss.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Walsh-Close-Up-Miss-Still.png”]

In short, three things went wrong on this kick: A snap that did not have the correct number of rotations on it, a holder who did not spin the laces away from the kicker, and a plant step that was too close to the ball to allow Walsh’s natural technique to occur. Walsh likely made his earlier kicks because all three did not occur at once on any of those kicks – while he did see laces earlier in the day, his plant step was generally wider and more stable. If any one of these does not occur here, the Vikings are likely on to the Divisional Round. But the convergence of all three of these, likely because of the frigid conditions, caused the kick to quickly veer left of the uprights as the Vikings fell to the Seahawks.

[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Walsh-Miss.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Walsh-Miss-Still.png”]

Follow Chuck on Twitter @ITP_ChuckZ.

Chuck Zodda knows the importance of staying in your lane, how to fake a punt return, the humanity of punters, proper placekicking technique and the Jets.

All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.

22 thoughts on “Explaining The Blair Walsh Missed Field Goal

  1. Hi Chuck,

    Great analysis. I wanted to ask you if one additional factor may have played a part in this, which is that on the previous successful field goal attempt Richard Sherman was within a hair of blocking it?

    Would that near miss have contributed in Blair subconsciously/consciously rushing his approach and thus overstriding/overstepping?

    1. It could have been a factor, and is something that is a possibility. While looking at anything on film, it’s often difficult to say exactly why something happened, but this is absolutely something that could have had a role here, even if only subconsciously.

  2. Please check the video. He plants about 8 inches from the ball, but slips about 4 inches on the frozen field.

    His only mistake was not to adjust the path of his leg mid-swing. Even if he had, the lateral acceleration from the slip was to the right and so the correction would have been leftward, which may have also resulted in a hook.

    Sub-zero grass is a slick surface and a ball in the deep freeze allows for little “touch” to be gained through compression. He gave it a good shot but the slippery surface prevailed.

    1. There is some minor slippage, but not anything that stands out compared to conditions throughout the game. Even on kicks in good conditions, you will have some movement on the plant foot due to the amount of torque being put through the contact point with the ground. I’ll try to pull some videos later today or early tomorrow as an example.

      1. Worth mentioning re: this theory: the entire surface is heated via sub-surface radiators which were installed when the Vikings took up temporary residence at the stadium. The ground is about the only thing that wasn’t frozen. 🙂

  3. Why does he kick with the inside of his right foot? It would only stand to reason the ball would go in that direction? Or does hos body angle also matter? He seems to lean to the left more that any kicker I’ve seen. The Vikings have a great team and if Teddy gets better year after year, they may play a Superbowl in their new stadium.

    1. Generally most kickers try to make contact with hard bone on top of inside of foot – wide, smooth surface. As far as specific techniques, always see some variation from player to player, just like jump shots, batting stances, golf swings. Walsh generally a very successful kicker who had a tough miss at a bad time.

  4. Chuck….I haven’t heard any comments about ball placement. Meaning, should the Vikings coaching staff be thinking that they could have “set up the placement” of the kick better. In baseball, if you swing right, you are more likely to hit the ball to left field and vice-versa. In basketball, people don’t shoot free throws from an angle. So why not have set up the kick in the prior running plays more to the center or if not, then slightly the the right hash mark. The uprights are very far apart so better coaching/play calling could have improved the probability of success here (at least to some extent). Walsh did not have a kick held that far to the left all game. Better to have ran it to dead center field. Thoughts?

    1. In a perfect scenario, you’d like a dead-center kick, but remember that a kicker always lines up to the center of the uprights so he doesn’t have to take a different swing on any kicks. Would I have preferred to see a centered kick? Yes. But generally kickers with Walsh’s high-torque swing tend to do very well from the left hash, so I don’t see it being a major issue here.

  5. Does lining up on the left hash mark have any effect? Would it have been better to have the ball placed on the right hash mark? If it makes a difference then perhaps Minnesota should have used their third down play to move the ball to the right hash mark (not exactly sure how that’s achieved).

  6. Sometimes there is an over analysis of something that is pretty simple to explain. Walsh choked under the pressure of the situation and missed an easy to make FG, nothing more, nothing less. After looking at the three previous FGs he MADE (22, 43, and 47 yards out) from the SAME game and not from games in the past, his foot placement prior to striking the ball was pretty consistent and at the same distance as it was when he missed. Let’s stop making excuses and call this what it was, a choke job in a pressure situation by an otherwise consistent kicker, much in the same way Gary Anderson choked in the NFC Championship game in 1998 after being perfect in FGs and extra points the entire season.

  7. Seems like the coach should have called a play that went to the right so his attempted field goal would have been on the right has mark as most of his earlier goals. As a coach I would have asked him which side he would prefer to kick from and run the play to that side…game over

  8. Comments about field placement on 3rd down make no sense. Priority was to get the 1st down & as AP himself said, he came within an inch or two.

    Chuck, I didn’t see a response to the comment that the same-day plants by Walsh were all similar. Is that true? And if so, do you have a further explanation. In any event, the nature of the so-called “choke” still comes down to a technical deficiency. I presume your thorough, excellent and detailed analysis amounts to a precise description of what went wrong – breaking down the so-called choke. Upside of the whole thing is we got to see all the “Kill Dan” posters from Ace Ventura!!

    1. None of Walsh’s other plants are this tight to the ball. He has his standard 6-8 inch separation between his plant and the ball. The 22-yard make appears closest, but even that has a couple inches more separation than what we see on this one.

  9. He clearly planted his foot too close. However what about the tilt of the hold – not the fact that it was tilted towards Locke, but the fact that (from what I can tell) it was also tilted somewhat towards the line of scrimmage? As far as front/back tilt, it should be tilted towards the kicker or not tilted at all.

  10. Blair has a struggled with XPs all season so it was no surprise he missed a game winning chip shot. Blair seems to take the same approach from 50 yards as he does  for XPs and short FGs.  When you look at the best kickers in the game like Vinatieri and Gostkowski, they seem to have a shorter punching motion for short kicks.  As with any physical  
    endeavor where accuracy is at a premium, the shorter and  simpler the motion, the more consistent you are.  You might also get an added benefit of being quicker.

  11. How important is it for the holder to hit the exact spot he points to with the bottom point of the ball? When watching the low angle view of the slow motion replay, it looks to me that the bottom of the ball starts to slip away from the holder just before it hits the ground. It looks like the bottom tip of the ball is maybe 2 inches or so to the left of where it should be causing the tilt and possibly accounting for the plant foot being so close. Are kickers usually able to adjust to something like that?

  12. Excellent analysis Chuck but I do have couple questions. Doesn’t the football lose pressure as the ball gets colder in these type conditions? Wouldn’t less ball pressure result in the ball staying on the foot just a bit longer?

  13. My son was a soccer player since 4 years old. At the age of 16 he decided he wanted to be a football kicker. He tried out and landed the spot of kicker as a walk on for his high school team. His first season he made 26 straight extra points out of 27 (one was a bad snap). This year for some reason he has already has missed one out of five in the first game, three out of eight in the second game and two out of four in this past game. We cannot figure out what he is doing wrong. He has a different holder but the holds look good. They are going to the left. Any suggestions

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *