Sunday, December 13, 2009

Crosby Needs an Intervention

Oh, if it weren't for that annoying "r" in Mason Crosby's last name.  You see, if it weren't for that "r", his name would be Mason Cosby, and then perhaps Bill Cosby may be willing to adopt Mason, much as he did with Cincinnati Bengal Quan Cosby during the 2009 NFL draft.

Because, right now, Mason Crosby is in need of an intervention.  Bill might be just the guy to have the wherewithall to get it to him.  Or, at least get Mason a good supply of Jello Pudding.

Out of 13 games, Crosby has missed a field goal in seven of them this season.  He ranks 24th overall in field goal percentage (75%), and while none of his misses have been the difference in the ball game (unlike last year's Viking game), he is becoming more and more of a liability as a placekicker.

Today, the Packers faked a field goal on fourth down, resulting in a time out and a conventional conversion attempt from the offense.  However, the line of scrimmage on that play was the Chicago 32, meaning that was merely a 49-yard field goal attempt.  The Packers passed up Crosby's leg on both tries.

Probably a good idea, because later on, Crosby missed from 42 yards.  He made a 26-yarder and a 33-yarder, but going into the playoffs with a kicker you can only rely on to make field goals inside of 40 is a pretty big handicap for any team.

Special teams coach Shawn Slocum may come under fire for a lot of things this season, but quietly, one of the worst things he may be doing is slowly allowing Mason Crosby's career to go down the tubes.  Let's be honest.  Mason Crosby is one of the highest-scoring players in the NFL.  Even now, he's gold in fantasy football.  But that is a result of playing with a high scoring offense that gets down the field and sputters in the red zone.

Crosby has yet to break the 80% completion rate in any of his three seasons in the NFL.  He's been given scant opportunities to kick a game-winner in the final seconds, and again, last year's Minnesota game was a black mark against him that he is unable to shake off.

Crosby got a lot of press early on because he started his kicking career in Green Bay during the Midas Year of 2007, racking up 141 points and leading the league in scoring.  We loved everybody on the Packers in 2007, even if they only made 79.5% of their field goals.

But, as this season has progressed, Crosby has only regressed.  More noticeable is that while the rest of the team has seemingly rebounded from hitting rock bottom against Tampa Bay, Crosby is one of the few that isn't following suit.  The running game has improved, the pass protection has improved, the defense has only gotten tighter with young stars starting to shine.  Heck, even Jeremy Kapinos has been invisible lately and Jarrett Bush has been serviceable.

But whatever Slocum is doing with Crosby, it isn't working.  And my guess is that it isn't as much a physical problem as it is mental.  Crosby doesn't need a technician, he needs a therapist.

Kicking isn't like any other job on a football field.  It's a very precise, methodical process, not unlike shooting a free throw or your golf swing.  There aren't a whole lot of variables that you can adjust to make you kick better or straighter.

But we all know someone who tries to do that, especially on the golf course.  Your golf swing is methodical.  It's as much concentration as it is mechanics.  But when you start to struggle with your drives, it tends to start a downward spiral.  You can't just compensate by swinging harder.  You get frustrated.  You start over-thinking and over-adjusting.  And it usually doesn't help until you just get away, clear your head, and re-focus.

That's not the way most positions are in football.  Running backs can run harder.  Wide receivers run faster, jump higher.  Defenders hit harder.  Nearly every position on the gridiron has a way to use emotion and drive to improve your performance and pull you out of a slump.  You can change your mental approach by changing your physical approach.

But not so for a kicker, and as pressure mounts on Crosby, tales from the recent past come to mind.  Brett Conway was a third-round draft pick in 1997, a high pick for a kicker that always comes with the pressure to be "the next big thing" to justify your draft position.  In a preseason game that year, the young kicker had the game from hell:  five missed field goals with no other kickers on the roster.  You could tell from the look on his face he was devastated.  The next day, he went out early to the practice field to "fix" everything he could, and ended up injuring himself in the process.  Conway was let go in favor of some street free agent named Longwell, began a journeyman's career in the NFL, and is now out of the league at an age (34) when many kickers are still well in their prime.

Conway's decline was rapid and intense.  Crosby's decline has been slow and gradual.  You would think there are ample opportunities for a good coach to intervene.  And perhaps Slocum is doing his best and this is just something in Crosby's head that is too hard to reach by simply looking at tape and adjusting your approach.

Said coach Mike McCarthy following the Bears game in his post-game presser, "I had a chance to talk to him after the miss. Just like last week, I'll look at the snap, the hold, the kick but Mason needs to kick the ball through the uprights. And the snapper needs to put it where it needs to be snapped, and the holder needs to put it where it needs to be held....I'm not worried. I have confidence in Mason. I believe in Mason."

That's fine and dandy, but just "not being worried" may not be the best medicine for Mason Crosby.  Someone needs to get inside his head and get him to refocus, both mechanically and mentally.  Passing over longer field goal attempts, as McCarthy has done the past few weeks, may be good enough against middling teams like the Ravens or Bears, but isn't going to be good enough when we are up against the Saints or the Vikings in the playoffs.

I don't say this as a condemnation of Crosby, because if he can be fixed it is in the best interest of the team.  He has a powerful leg and his kickoffs are more than adequate.  There's no doubt he has enough power to get the ball to the goalposts, even from 55 yards or more.  You only need to look around the NFL to know that there is a dearth of top-notch kickers out there.  "Getting rid" of Crosby eliminates one perceived problem, but creates a slough of new ones.

But, as the Packers drive towards the playoffs, and as Crosby enters a contract year next season, the pressure on him is going to mount.  Eventually, he is going to be placed in the position to win a game with a sizable field goal attempt and little time on the clock, perhaps to clinch a wild card spot or win a first-round playoff game.  You only need remember the lessons of Conway, or even BJ Sander, to know what pressure in the face of heightened expectations can do to a struggling kicker.

Deservedly so, Crosby has earned the privilege (if you can call it that) of being "worried about", and it is time that McCarthy and Slocum quit looking for excuses for him or patting him on the shoulder.  Waiting for the problem to solve itself hasn't proven to be successful, so it is time to get inside Mason's head before he loses it. 


Anonymous said...

The problem is Matt Flynn. He's an inconsistent holder, and has trouble placing the football in the correct spot. In this regard, Brohm was better. Sadly, Rodgers had trouble holding too. Not sure if anyone on the roster is really any better.

PackersRS said...

First off, it's not the holder's fault. Take a look into the replay. He bobbles the ball a little bit, but Flynn is able to put it in the spot, in time for the kick to be made. Also, Brohm never held. It was Ryan before.

Great post. As a soccer fan, and practician, and as a brazilian, kicking has the mental aspect, but it's technique. Crosby doesn't set his left foot in a proper manner to hit it, he needs to put it closer to the ball, and with his toe facing the direction he wish to kick. He doesn't do that.

Moreso, I think he's kicking with the wrong side of his foot. Soccer kicks can be made with 4 parts of the foot, but the outside part is just so you can put a spin to the ball. The most accurate way is with the inside, the most potent is with the top, and an intermediate, more appropriate to kicking FG is with the side of the toe.

He should adapt to a more precise kick, because he has the leg to boom it.

But I don't thrust him to be able to do it.

IPB said...

I see one person did push into the realm of the technique involved with making these kicks.

I would ask, CD - did you TiVO the game? If so, go back and look at the missed 42 yarder - where half of our Club called it a miss BEFORE the ball was hiked.

I SAW - the snapper once again hiked it right at Flynn instead of more towards the kicker, where all he would have to do it simply lay the ball down int he right position - a smooth flowing move. I saw Flynn try to adjust to make sure he CAUGHT the ball and he did get it down soon enough, but it looked tilted somewhat, but it was there.

The rest, PackersRS nails it with what part of the foot Crosby is using. THAT, people is a coaching issue, which points the finger right at Slocum. I won't be mad, hurt, OR disappointed, if Slocum is not with us next year. We had credible Special Teams under Holmgren and (hate to say it) even Sherman. Why not now?

Good question!

C.D. Angeli said...

I have to agree...maybe the one last week was partially on the holder, but none of the other kicks have been...and the coaches stated as much in the post-game presser.

Crosby doesn't need Longwell-itis...needing to blame a holder when he misses a field goal. He's a big boy and has to take some accountability when he does poorly.

That said, Slocum's comments today that he's not worried about Crosby sure flies in the face of what I wrote. With that attitude, both Slocum and Crosby will be out of a job come January.