Special teams is the phase of the game overlooked by fans. But in the opening game of the season between the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers, Josh Scobee’s technique failed him on two critical field goals, contributing to a Pittsburgh loss. Chuck Zodda examines Scobee’s misses, and what to expect the rest of the season.
Josh Scobee is a 12-year NFL veteran who was recently acquired by the Steelers after preseason injuries to Shaun Suisham and Garrett Hartley left Pittsburgh without a kicker. For his career, he has attempted 295 field goals and has converted 237 of them, which represents an 80.3% accuracy.
His worst season came in 2009, when he went 18-for-28 for the Jacksonville Jaguars ‒ a mere 64.3% conversion percentage. However, his 2011-2013 seasons rank among the best in the NFL, with 71 makes and only 7 misses, good for 91%. Scobee regressed in 2014, going 20-for-26, though three of those misses came on kicks longer than 50 yards. However, Scobee missed kicks of 44 and 46-yards on opening night, leading a number of Pittsburgh fans to question their new kicker’s qualifications.
The still above shows the play as Scobee (#8) begins his approach. Steelers punter Jordan Berry (#4) has the ball down on the inside of the right hash. Although he is still in the process of spinning the laces away from Scobee, the ball is perfectly placed, with slight tilt away from the kicker so as to create a rounder surface for contact. There is nothing mechanically wrong with Scobee at this point, but as he strikes the ball, it becomes apparent that it will not have a straight flight:
This still shows Scobee immediately after he strikes the ball. His hips are still angled outside the hash, despite the fact that his target is slightly to his left. Much like a golf shot, a ball struck by a kicker is guided primarily by the hips. With Scobee’s hips so far out of alignment with his target, this ball had almost no chance from the moment it was struck. Scobee’s ball is briefly on track, but quickly slices away from the uprights, missing wide right.
From the opposite end zone, Scobee begins his approach in the same fashion. Berry once again has a perfect hold in place. Yet, Scobee’s hips are again pointed outside the target, and the ball again fades during flight:
There are several reasons why this can occur for a kicker. The most common error is a poor plant foot location, usually ahead of the ball, which causes the hips to drag in order to make contact. While Scobee’s foot is slightly ahead of the ball on both of these kicks, it is not far enough to cause the issue on its own. Rather, it seems more likely that Scobee was trying to generate extra velocity to cut through the windy weather at Gillette Stadium, and in doing so, created the same type of slice that golfers do as his leg got ahead of his hips.
Contact with the ball was strong, but the excess torque from the leg’s motion does comes through from right to left instead of striking directly through the center of gravity on the ball. Golfers will undoubtedly feel Scobee’s pain here.
His hips continue to point through the target on his follow through, as the ball sails through the uprights for his first make of the game.
Scobee got off to a rough start in a city that has seen kickers struggle in the swirling winds of Heinz Field. However, Scobee correctly diagnosed his issue mid-game, and after his earlier miscues, was perfect the rest of the game despite inclement weather as the night wore on. While kickers can have volatile performance from year to year due to weather and differences in kick distance, there is no reason why Scobee should not settle in and perform in line with his historical numbers over the next 15 games.
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 the NFL Game Pass.