Longer extra points have been a major storyline throughout the 2015 season, with what had once been a formality now becoming a moment of tension for many teams. In recent weeks, Seattle Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka has struggled on the longer attempt, missing two extra points in Week 11, and one in Week 12. Chuck Zodda looks at the tape to see where the issue lies for Hauschka, and whether or not he can fix it.
The Seahawks found placekicking stability in 2011, when previously-undrafted Steven Hauschka signed on after spending parts of the previous three seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, Detroit Lions, Atlanta Falcons, and Denver Broncos. Hauschka has been consistently above-average for Seattle, never posting a field goal accuracy below 83.3%. In particular, Hauschka has been outstanding on long attempts, with the third-highest accuracy in the league for field goals between 50 and 59 yards since 2008. However, he can also be prone to small bouts of inconsistency, one of which occurred in Week 15 of the 2014 season, where he went 0 for 3 on field goals. Recently, Hauschka has experienced a similar drop in production on extra points, leading many Seahawks fans to wonder why such a strong kicker can struggle on such an apparently easy kick.
Early Season – To the Left, To the Left
With the move to the 33-yard extra point in 2015, the NFL made one key change to assuage the fears of kickers – they allowed the field goal unit to choose where to place the ball between the hashes. This gives every kicker an opportunity to pick the angle at which they feel most comfortable, and has resulted in slightly higher accuracy than my pre-season predictions.
For Week 1 through Week 4, Hauschka set up on the left hash, which is where many right-footed kickers prefer to kick from. The torque generated by the rotation of the soccer-style kick produces a motion that can fly open to the right, meaning it is easier to let this flow towards the goalposts from the left hash than to try to counteract it for many specialists. The swing plane in kicking is very similar to the one employed by golfers, and anyone who has ever tried to battle a slice understands the natural tendency for a ball to move right.
He sets up two yards outside the left hash, with his left foot just behind the 25-yard line and his right foot just beyond parallel to the line of scrimmage. This allows his hips to stay open through his initial approach, which he then uses to whip his leg through the kicking zone. It is because of the rapid closure of Hauschka’s hips before impact that he is able to generate the tremendous force apparent in many of his kicks, and his starting position is key to his move through the kicking zone.
Holder Jon Ryan (#9) places the ball as Hauschka makes contact:
Hauschka’s plant foot is ahead of where it should be to generate ideal height. Many kickers plant with the ball slightly behind the arch of their plant foot, at the start of the heel. However, as shown here, Hauschka plants instead with his entire foot in front of the ball. This keeps his hips further over the ball, preventing him from elevating the kick as rapidly as he would like. For soccer players, you have likely been told over and over to keep your head and hips over the ball in order to keep it below the crossbar. Hauschka in this case is too far over the ball during a situation where he would like to generate additional height.
This has been a problem for Hauschka throughout his career, as he has had seven kicks blocked in the equivalent of six full seasons. This is nearly double the block rate for other top kickers, as Adam Vinatieri has had 10 kicks blocked in 20 seasons, Phil Dawson 9 in 17 seasons, Matt Bryant 6 in 14 seasons, and Stephen Gostkowski 2 in 10 seasons.
The rotational energy employed in his swing makes it difficult for him to follow through directly to the target. While Hauschka’s timing of his move is usually impeccable, this was the area of his swing that deteriorated prior to the playoffs last year, though he was able to address it quickly.
Mid-Season – Stuck in the Middle with You
He debuted this new approach against the Cincinnati Bengals. The key difference here is he is slightly more closed due to the angle of the kick, with his right foot being in line with the 41-yard line, as opposed to angled slightly back. He still has the same approach, but has corrected for the angle of the kick appropriately.
The side-by-side comparison below with Bengals kicker Mike Nugent shows just how far forward Hauschka’s plant
Hauschka’s entire foot is ahead of the yellow line (indicating where the 33-yard line and hold are), while Nugent’s plant step is perfectly aligned, with just the toes visible in front of the yellow line. It is this small, subtle, difference that causes the lower trajectory for Hauschka on his kicks.
Despite these small issues, Hauschka remained perfect on extra points from his new spot of choice until Week 11. Lining up for his second extra point attempt of the game, Hauschka appears to step off his approach incorrectly:
As opposed to the previous kick from the center where Hauschka’s back foot is parallel to the hash mark, here it is angled slightly back as if he is kicking from the left hash. Unfortunately for the Seahawks, this open stance does not close down properly as Hauschka makes his approach:
At the strike point, Hauschka’s hips and legs are still pointed well outside the target. This is not a case where there is hip lag that causes a late fade that eventually carries the ball wide. This is a ball that is driven wide to begin with, possibly because of the open angle Hauschka displayed at the outset. The end zone camera shows the strike from a different view:
Just after the ball is away, everything for Hauschka is still pointing well outside the uprights. This kick never had a chance, and the severity of the miss likely spooked Hauschka during the game. How do we know this? Because on his next extra point, he went back to kicking from the left hash.
Back for the Very First Time
Set up in his old stomping grounds, Hauschka shows the familiar open stance, with his right leg pointing just beyond parallel as we saw in the early season. Hauschka approaches and strikes the ball, with the same forward plant step shown earlier:
The ball comes off at an incredibly low angle, likely in the 20-25 degree range as opposed to the 35-40 degree angle preferred on field goals and extra points. The Seattle line has been pushed back slightly, but is still in good position. However, because of the low trajectory, the kick is deflected at the line, bouncing harmlessly into the end zone as Hauschka ends up with his second miss of the game. Hauschka would go on to have another kick blocked by the Steelers in Week 12, giving him three misses in a two-week stretch.
The Kid is All Right
Week 13 saw the debut of another change for Hauschka on extra points in a key game against the Minnesota Vikings. This time, it was a move to the right hash, which had previously been unfamiliar territory for him on the point-after. Many right-footed kickers dislike right-hash kicks, as the natural motion of the swing often causes a kicker’s hips to open up and push the ball just off the right upright. However, in Hauschka’s case, kicking from the right hash may give him the platform he needs to generate consistency and slightly better height over the rest of the season.
Notice the slightly steeper angle he has to the ball as he steps off the kick directly to the center upright. This results in him being slightly deeper than when kicking from the left of the middle, and his right foot is now pointing slightly forward. He still has the same open angle as before, but it is oriented differently due to the angle of the kick.
As opposed to earlier kicks, where Hauschka’s plant foot was entirely in front of the ball, his heel is now in line with the ball at the strike point. The adjustment to the right hash forces a right-footed kicker to keep his plant foot slightly back in order to allow his hips to clear and go through the target. In Hauschka’s case, this could be a major positive for him going forward, as it should help with the height on his kicks.
His skip step is much cleaner from this side as well:
Unlike previous attempts where Hauschka’s skip step would carry him well away from the target, he moves cleanly through the uprights on this kick. While the sample size is small, Hauschka’s 5 for 5 performance on extra points against Minnesota suggests he is capable of kicking from this side, and the mechanics appear much cleaner than the other two locations he tried earlier in the season.
While the move to the right hash does offer some mechanical benefits for Hauschka, a kicker changing location on extra points three times over the course of a season suggests he still feels some uncertainty on his kicks. Kicking is just as much mental as physical, and if Hauschka can be mentally comfortable with his new approach, it should be clear sailing from here. He is still likely to have a lower-than-ideal trajectory for the rest of this season, as in-season adjustments can be difficult and often not recommended due to a lack of sufficient time to build up muscle memory. However, his mechanics on his latest extra points were much-improved over recent weeks, and he has shown an ability to bounce back from failures very well in previous seasons. While Seahawks fans were right to be concerned after Weeks 11 and 12, Hauschka should show more consistency over the final quarter of the season as he gains comfort with his new approach.
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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.