Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Vandermause's Excuses For Crosby Not Helping...

Over the years, there are few writers I've enjoyed nitpicking more than the Green Bay Press-Gazette's Mike Vandermause.  Maybe it's because his biases are so evident.  Maybe it's because he doesn't stop at just facts to prove his points.  Maybe it's just because it is so easy.

Today, Vandermause advises Packer Planet to calm down and cut Mason Crosby some slack.  I have no problems with his base message, because he is correct when he states that "It’s not likely that anyone available this late in the season would perform any better than Crosby."

But then, he drifts off into some stretches of reason and statistics that are supposed to lead us to believe that he is on the verge of turning into, well, Ryan Longwell.

Longwell made just 20 of 31 field goals [64%] eight years ago and ranked 33rd among NFL kickers, but bounced back by converting 85.2 percent of his kicks over the next three seasons. His 81.6 percent career mark ranks No. 1 in Packers history.

No one can predict how Crosby will respond to his slump, but history says he deserves every opportunity to break out of it. Ryan Longwell had a bad year in 2001, and then bounced back the next year, so this means that the same will be true of Crosby?   Certainly, Longwell struggled mightily, but he finished that year strong.  People forget, when you just lump the season statistics together as Vandermause did, that he simply was a 65% kicker from start to finish.

But, in actuality, Longwell missed four field goals in a row, ranging from Game 5 to Game 7.  He finished the final five games of the season making 7 out of 9 field goals, including a mammoth 54-yarder in game 13.

And how exactly did this change happen?  Well, not by going out and trying to reassure him by saying his job was 100% secure.  No, they went out and fixed the problem.  Longwell himself was a factor in shaking himself out of his own slump, studying game film and recognizing that part of the problem was in the placement of the ball by a new holder, then working with his coaches to change it.

It also doesn't hurt that the Packers had a heckuva season that year, going 12-4 and making the playoffs.  Winning tends to make us "okay" with struggles, too.

The other critical part of the statistical jigsaw that Vandermause leaves out is that we aren't comparing apples to apples with Longwell and Crosby.  Longwell had demonstrated his ability to kick at a high level ever since he won the job over Brett Conway as a street free agent in 1997.  In his four seasons before his "off year" in 2001, Longwell had FG percentages of 80.0%, 87.9%, 83.3%, and 86.8%.

Crosby was fortunate, like Longwell in 2001, to have come in as a rookie during the Packers' 2007 13-3 resurgence, leading the league in scoring and turning him into a fantasy football darling.  In reality, however, Crosby only made 79.5% of his field goals in that year, and then turned in a near-identical sophomore performance last year.  Now, as his percentage has dropped to 72.7% this year, we have to ask a rather logical question:  is 79% the "norm" we're hoping Mason can snap himself back to?  Longwell demonstrated the ability to be a Pro Bowl caliber kicker before his slump, but Crosby's achievements have been based on quantity, not quality:  more a component of the high-powered offense he benefits from rather than his own accuracy.

So, the Longwell comparison is missing quite a few holes.  But this doesn't stop Vandermause from going to the well again.

Even this season, for all the scrutiny Crosby has received, his accuracy is close to Longwell’s 74.1 percent during his final season with the Packers in 2005. Since leaving Green Bay, Longwell has converted 86.0 percent of his kicks.

For starters, Dave Rayner made 74.3% of his field goals in 2006, and like Longwell, was ousted the following offseason.   Now, in 2005, Longwell had only the second sub-80% FG kicking percentage of his entire nine-year career at that point (and since, for that matter), but there were still a lot of other factors at play besides the basic numbers.

For one, Longwell had rookie bust BJ Sander as his holder that year, and we all know Longwell's oversensitivity to poor holders.  Secondly, 2005 was one of the worst seasons in Packer history, a complete under-performance by every squad on the team, special teams not excluded.  There was no synergy on the team whatsoever, and Longwell's performance was completely in line with what we saw in nearly every other phase of the game.

The question then becomes, what external factors are affecting Crosby?  Is there a team-wide schism, like there was in 2005?  No, and in fact, as the Packers have pulled it all together following the Tampa Bay debacle, Crosby has only declined further.  Is there an issue with the holder?  No, and the foolish effort to swap out Matt Flynn with Jeremy Kapinos last week was evidence of that.

The problem is simple: there's an issue with Crosby, whether it be in his physical mechanics or in his mental approach to the game, or both.  Regardless of what it is, this is the NFL, which in the immortal words of Jerry Glanville means "Not For Long" if he keeps doing what he's doing.  No, the Packers may not find someone any better than Crosby on the free-agent market right now (Kapinos didn't exactly set the world on fire after coming in to replace Derrick Frost, either), but there needs to be some direct problem-solving on the part of special teams coach Shaun Slocum.  Unfortunately, that doesn't appear to be on the horizon, either.

The Packers’ coaching staff is taking the proper approach with Crosby by offering public support. In private, they would be wise to tell Crosby that he’s their kicker regardless of what happens the rest of this season or how loud his critics complain.

Crosby shouldn’t have to worry about his job status every time he tries a field goal.

Special teams coach Shawn Slocum said: “What you need to do is … have a mindset of ‘Boy, I can’t wait to make this kick’ as opposed to going out there saying, ‘Man, I can’t miss this one.’"

Once again, Vandermause shows his bias by beating the drum of the Packer administration.  He shouldn't have to worry about his job status every time he tries a field goal???  What the hell is he getting paid to do?  He is paid to do essentially one thing, and one thing only:  kick a ball far and straight.  That's it.  If you can't do that one thing, you need to be worried about your job status.

We all know that kickers have fragile egos.  I've made that point many times myself, and Crosby's is clearly shaken.  But what is to be gained by artificially propping him up, both publicly and inside the locker room?  Even Ryan Longwell, who has far better career numbers, was a part of solving his own struggles the few times it has happened.  Instead, Crosby is being told what a good boy he is, while the blame from his coaches seem to land on poor Matt Flynn, who, to my memory, bobbled one snap all season. 

It's pretty basic self-defeatist psychology:  you keep telling an person that their inferior performances are fine, and they don't work to solve the problem.  However, when their performance continues to be inferior, they get more and more frustrated when the external criticism rises, and soon enough, begin to see for themselves that they aren't doing as well as they should be...and the downward cycle continues.

What's most amusing to be is that Vandermause keeps choosing to compare Crosby to Longwell, a guy we essentially rode out of town on a rail, because we saw him as far too expensive to keep around here only kicking as well as he did in 2005.

Look, I am not one of the folks ready to run Mason Crosby out of town on a rail.  I am, however, getting ready to run out Slocum for not working to fix the problems that are going to end the career of a promising young kicker, and Mike McCarthy should be ashamed for going along with it.  Crosby doesn't need excuses and artificial confidence right now from those folks that are accountable for his development and performance.  He needs someone to coach him, to study his mechanics, and to remedy them.

If you want to make a comparison to Longwell's poor 2001 season, how about focusing on how he solved the problem, instead of just declaring he had one.  He didn't break out of it because he had a full self-esteem balloon, and neither will Crosby.


Anonymous said...

you missed the best part

our 'ace' special teams coach saying he would "DEVISE" something to help

I will let some of the more challenged look up that word and see what it means ... because if fans understood what he was saying the coach would have been run out of town already

Anonymous said...

Vandermause has always been an idiot. He is extremely biased and his reporting seems to seldom be based on facts. He also strikes me as a guy who would take a bullet protecting TT from the criticism the worst GM in the NFL deserves. I make a point of never reading anything that idiot has to say unless I'm just interested in laughing at how stupid the man is.