The 33-yard extra point was one of the big stories of the 2015-16 season, as players, fans, coaches, and announcers enjoyed griping about kickers missing chip shots at a higher rate than before despite concern that they are too good. In particular, Buffalo Bills fans directed their ire towards kicker Dan Carpenter, who missed six extra points on the season, including five in the last eight games. Can Carpenter bounce back and get himself back on track in 2016? Chuck Zodda emerges from the ITP film cave to discuss his findings.
Carpenter is an eight-year veteran, first getting a look at NFL action with the Miami Dolphins in 2008. He spent five years in the warm Miami sun, compiling an uninspiring 81.0% accuracy on field goals, 2.1% below the league average over that time. While Carpenter’s average attempt was from 38.46 yards compared to the league average of 36.89 yards during that time, there was nothing statistically suggesting that he might make the jump to the next level or was capable of more.
Carpenter bounced around training camps in the summer of 2013, getting cut by both the Arizona Cardinals and New York Jets. But after a groin injury to Dustin Hopkins prior to the start of the 2013 season, Carpenter signed with the Bills and has spent the past three seasons in Buffalo. Over that time period, Carpenter made 89.1% of his field goals, besting the NFL average mark of 85.0%, good for ninth out of 29 qualifying kickers (with at least 48 attempts over three years). He was strong on field goals from 30-39 yards as well, making 92.9% of his kicks compared to 91.3% for the league.
But extra points in 2015 were a different story. Carpenter was not just bad from the football equivalent of the free throw line; he was terrible. His 85% hit rate on extra points was 31st out of 32 kickers, with only rookie Jason Myers of the Jacksonville Jaguars performing worse. With five misses occurring in the last eight games of the year, this is the type of issue that could linger into the offseason and cause further issues in 2016.
So why did things go so horribly wrong from 33 yards last year, and can Carpenter bounce back in 2016?
Carpenter started the 2015 season kicking extra points from the left hash mark. He was actually remarkably good from this location, going 23-for-24 to start the season before misses against the Jets and Kansas City Chiefs in November. From there, Carpenter moved to the center of the field for his attempts, and the results were not pretty. He was just 9-for-12 from this location to finish the year, and a look at his mechanics from this spot reveals why.
Facing the Houston Texans, Carpenter had four extra point attempts. The following images show his first-quarter make on the left, and his fourth-quarter miss on the right:
In both frames, Carpenter aligns himself in identical fashion to start. His head is focused directly down at his eventual plant location, with his front foot pointing in the same direction, and back foot offset and pointing slightly behind his holder. The identical setup means it is not an initial alignment issue causing the inaccuracy, so this can be crossed off the list of possible issues.
Later, we see Carpenter midway through his approach, just after his jab step as his second step occurs:
His right foot plants on the 25-yard line in an identical location and angle. Once again, there is no issue present at this point, so we proceed further into Carpenter’s motion:
This is where it begins to go wrong for Carpenter.
In the left image, Carpenter’s plant foot is pointed directly at the target, and his hips and shoulders open as he comes through the ball. His foot pointed at the target allows the momentum he has built up to release directly through the ball, with everything flowing directly through the target zone.
The right side paints a different picture. Carpenter plants his left foot, but it is pointing toward the right upright (white logo on outside of shoe visible in this still). This also closes his left shoulder, which now cannot clear the kicking zone, holding his hips back in the process. To compensate, Carpenter must bring his leg through the kicking zone more quickly, creating additional torque and throwing off the timing of his strike.
The off-balance motion continues in his follow-through:
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In the image on the left, Carpenter’s body lean post-kick is 15.3 degrees, showing that despite the torque he generates, he is able to keep himself balanced. Yet in the right image, his body lean is 23 degrees, with his left arm crossed further over his body as he continues to compensate for his off-balance approach caused by an improper plant.
While this issue did not present itself in Carpenter’s earlier misses from the left hash, they are present in several of his failed attempts from the middle of the field. Given the poor track record he had at the end of last season and the repeated nature of this mistake, this is something that needs to be addressed in order for Carpenter to succeed this year. While his mechanics are somewhat unorthodox to begin with, he is a strong enough kicker that he should be able to address this problem. The first quarter of the season will be critical in determining if this is still an issue going forward, or if Carpenter has moved past it and is able to regain his spot as an above-average NFL kicker.
Follow @ITP_ChuckZ on Twitter. Check out his other work here, an unlikely Super Bowl MVP, an under-appreciated great NFL kicker, and his look at the league not appreciating kickers for being too good.
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All images courtesy of NFL Game Pass.