Coming into Sunday’s game there was a fair bit of skepticism regarding Blair Walsh and his performance so far for the Seattle Seahawks. While Walsh has only missed two kicks this year, due to his previous performances with Minnesota, he has been under an incredible amount of scrutiny. And while I won’t say that scrutiny is undeserved, I will tell you I told you so. Because I did. Repeatedly.
Walsh was 85.7% on field goals going into Sunday, but today? Perfection: 3-for-3 on field goals, including two from beyond 45, as well as a PAT. You really can’t ask for more. Okay fine, you could ask for him to not muff the squib kick after the Seahawks first touchdown.
Based on the subsequent kick and the inability of the Rams to cleanly field a punt, it appears the Seahawks are squib kicking here based on a chance at a turnover and a belief that Seattle can win against LA in the special teams game within the game. A belief Pete Carroll should absolutely have, given that Jon Ryan pinned the Rams within the 20 twice, they dropped two fair catch attempts, and Seattle backup center Ethan Pocic returned a kickoff for 13 yards. On the first attempt, it appears the ball may have bounced oddly off the ground at the point of contact for the kick, causing it to go out of bounds. However, Walsh seems to correct his error on the next attempt immediately following the half.
This image shows more what Walsh was trying to do. Kickoffs are strategy, and I understand it’s a section most people don’t think about. A lot of the time, and later in the game, Walsh will drill the ball deep/out of the end zone and prevent any kind of return. But when you want to exploit a specific weakness of an opponent, like ball security, you target it. I don’t think Blair Walsh is having kickoff problems, I think his first of two squib kicks got away from him a bit. That muff cost them some field position, but with a defense like Seattle that’s a risk you can take a lot of times.
A perfect day to kick the ball
Walsh and Greg Zuerlein both entered the league in 2012, and previous to today a lot was made of Zuerlein’s “perfect” record. While Zuerlein has had a phenomenal start to the 2017 season, his career field goal percentage is just barely above 81%. While a large portion of his missed kicks are from beyond 50, which tends to happen when you’ve played for the 2012-2016 Rams, he was about 90% for kicks in the 30-39 yard bracket. That is to say, while he is quite good, he is not perfect. If I tell you something has a 10% chance to fail, that is not an insignificant percentage. None of us should be surprised that he finally missed a kick, the chances that he would go perfect an entire season are incredibly low; only three kickers have ever achieved this feat in the NFL.
After today, Walsh is sitting at 9/10 on field goal attempts and 9/10 on PATs. Out of a possible 37 offensive points attempted, Walsh has scored 33. This means Walsh has scored 90% of the points he has been asked to by Carroll. Previous to today, Walsh’s only miss was a kick in which the Seahawks were trailing. This attempt, as time expires against a division rival with some fairly serious playoff implications he nails it.
So far, this means Walsh has made all but one high pressure kick this season. While this doesn’t guarantee that he has exorcised his Vikings demons it certainly bodes well. This 48, and his 49-yard attempt later, were both longer than his 2017 long so far of 44, but Walsh’s career long still stands at 56.
Jon Ryan keeps on keeping on
Ryan makes difficult kicks look routine. He pinned LA within the 20 twice today, which means 10 total punts inside the 20 this season; that’s 35.7% of all of his punts (17th in the league). His 10 punts inside the 20 is good for 6th in the league. He now has 28 punts (tied for 2nd) for 1244 yards total (5th), 12 punts returned (16th) for 91 total punt return yards (15th) against Seattle. My only real complaint is that Ryan is being asked to kick 7 times a game on average. Whether the offense can turn more of these punts into points later in the season is the missing key to sustained success this season, in my opinion.
Final Take Away
Walsh is kicking field goals above his career average, partially because the Seahawks aren’t putting him in impossibly long kicking positions. But overall he has performed well.
Based on my first Kicker Consideration article, I said that if Walsh could kick field goals at 88% or better, his average if you exclude 2016, he would be a sound investment because Seattle would be losing less than a point per game on expected points while having a cap hit of about 1⁄3 that of Steven Hauschka.
I will forever love Hauschka, but coming into the bye week I think we can look back at the last 20 combined kick attempts by Walsh, realizing the Seahawks have come out almost exactly as expected. Hauschka has missed one field goal this year, so the point differential between Walsh and Hauschka on misses is one point. They essentially traded $3 million in cap space for .25 fewer points per game. These are exactly the kind of number games being a GM takes, shaving points for money here and there, and of course using those savings to sign key players.
So when I say I trust John Schneider, it’s not just because I’m a fan of the team. It’s because I’m a fan of math. And kickers.
A previous version of this article contained an error which has been corrected.