Monday, August 2, 2010

Crosby Needs Coaching, Not Excuses

We all remember Ryan Longwell, who left the Green Bay Packers following the forgettable 2005 season as the Packers all-time leader in field goal percentage (81.59%). What we also tend to remember about Longwell is that when he did miss a critical field goal (as all kickers will eventually do), he had a penchant for publicly throwing his snapper/holder under the bus. It was a rare day when Longwell took accountability for his own misses.

Thankfully, Mason Crosby has not had to follow in the Brent Jones-esque "I did my job" finger-pointing of his predecessor.

Unfortunately, that's because his coaches have done it for him.

Once again, coach Mike McCarthy absolved Crosby of the same kinds of misses that plagued him last year.

Rob Demovsky, always the obsessive stat man, made note of Crosby's issues yesterday.

He missed three times — from 40, 45 and 45 yards — during a nine-kick session. Though he converted from 28, 33, 36, 43, 50 and 53 yards, the two 45-yard misses were during a “thunder” situation, in which the field goal unit has 13 seconds to get on the field, get lined up and get the snap off, a drill that simulates a last-second kick.

All three of his misses were wide left. The 40-yard miss was from the right hashmark, which was Crosby’s trouble spot last season. The other two misses came from the middle of the field.

All nine kicks came with first-year punting candidate Chris Bryan holding. Bryan never had held before coming to the United States this offseason after making the switch from Australian Rules Football.

After practice, Packers coach Mike McCarthy said he didn’t think the problem was with Crosby’s ball striking. “I thought the operation wasn’t as clean as it needed to be,” McCarthy said. “I thought he struck the ball clean.” (emphasis mine)

Jason Wilde expanded on the interventions the Packers made following Crosby's debacle yesterday, with more comments from Mike.

Crosby, Bryan, Masthay, long-snapper Brett Goode, Slocum and former long-snapper Rob Davis worked on the side during 11-on-11 after the kicking period on how Crosby would like to have the ball placed.

Still, McCarthy said he saw no reason to go back to backup quarterback Matt Flynn as the holder, even though Flynn handled the job in 2008 and was taken off of it last year basically as a psychological boost for Crosby during his slump. “We're very comfortable with the two candidates so far. We do also have Matt as a potential candidate, but really the regularity of having the punter hold for the kicker is the best option, in my opinion,” McCarthy said. “And once (the punting) position is solved, I don't look for any issues in (holding). The negative is (Crosby) has had so many holders in such a two-and-a-half year period. That's something we'd like to get away from.”

Now, you can take this any way that you want. However, my thinking would be that if switching up holders is a problem, and the guy who's been the holder is still on the team (and will very likely still be on the team) is being "benched" for holding neophytes, it's a pretty strong statement against the job that Flynn did last year, when Crosby struggled late in the season.

Which means we are continuing the dysfunctional "protect Crosby" mentality that has pervaded much of his career after his promising rookie season. Flynn out, someone new in (despite the excuse we just made about giving Crosby consistency).

I totally understand the fragile psyche of kickers, and have commented on it many times before. A coaching staff can really mess with the mind of a kicker by trying to do too much or change too much of his approach early in his career. Let's not forget that Longwell's career began in Green Bay thanks to the meltdown of Brett Conway, a high draft pick that lost his mental edge in the preseason.

But, I never accepted Longwell's excuses of holders messing him up. Yes, I understand it is a part of the whole battery of events that must take place leading up to a field goal, but at some point, Longwell needed to suck it up and kick like a man, instead of throwing his holders under the bus. A permanent holder for a kicker is a pretty rare thing, and Longwell and Crosby are no exceptions to the ebbs and flows of the depth chart. It's not like they are an all-star pitcher who demands his own personal catcher be on the roster.

The patterns of misses by Crosby, though, are pretty clear. When a kicker, regardless of the holder, is missing consistently from a certain side of the hashmarks, it's not a battery issue. It is a mechanics issue on the part of the kicker.

Now, I am not a Crosby Hater, so please spare me those catcalls. I like Crosby, thought he was a great pick, and he should be a great kicker. The fact that he currently ranks third all-time on the Packers' career FG% list is not lost on me. We could have a lot worse than Mason, and I am very cognizant of that.

But, it is imperative that our coaching staff puts Crosby in the position to improve, and the more they work to over-protect his psyche and self-esteem balloon, the less it seems like he is able to break out of his "Right Hashmark Kryptonite". Special Teams coach Shawn Slocum decreed that Crosby should not hire a kicking coach this offseason to try and work on his problems, but instead suggested he call successful kickers in the league and get their advice.

It doesn't make sense. On top of it, no competition has been brought in again for Crosby. There's no one to push him to do better, a contradiction to the stated policy of Thompson and McCarthy, who believe that competition will push the cream to the top.

With time running out in a game, the Packers aren't always going to be able to afford a dive left running play to put the ball on the left hashmark for Crosby to attempt his field goal.

The time has come to do what must be done for Crosby, and pointing fingers in every other direction is no longer a viable solution. If Slocum is not the man to do it, maybe we should try replacing him instead of Matt Flynn.


Anonymous said...

..Bring in some competition

But not for Crosby, because a camp leg is useless in trying to fix his problems.

Bring in competition for Slocum

The Saints used John Carney as a kicking coach last year with great success, and I think that is the missing piece for Mason as well

He has had Stock and Slocum so far (Ugh), and I think he would prosper with a decent kicking coach

His kickoffs are fine, his onsides are fine- all he needs is a little work on his FGs and GB has a solid kicker for years to come.

The problem is coaching IMO, so let's address that issue with some outside help.

Max said...

I never thought about it until you wrote it, but do you think McCarthy will think twice about running to the right side of the field on third down? If he even runs at all on third down, and that's a big "if", I think he purposely has to run towards the left hash.

As always, insightful post, C.D. Thanks.

IPB said...

Gotta agree ... Longwell pointing the finger in any other direction, period was all Brett-Favre-ian. As for Crosby(?) I think if someone jumped in his backside, he'd finally deliver. You know he likes the money; he likes the fact he don't take no real hits; and he basically saves the day, which get shim all sorts of accolades usually reserved for the real TD personnel. I think McCarthy is babying him for far too long. He was pretty damn good as a Roookie - did someone advise him his style was somehow wrong? I think that's the best question to ask at this point. Much like Tiger Woods, who has given up his money-swing on the club... it ain't happenin' no more. And, one wonders what type of Professional is he to begin with when he has to see it's not working and he should go back to what got him the gig in the first place.

Tell me I got this wrong.......