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Thursday, January 10, 2013
NFC West dissertation on Akers, Longwell

By Mike Sando


This is the most I can recall analyzing kicking situations heading into playoff games, but the additional attention is warranted under the circumstances. Here we go.

Neither the San Francisco 49ers nor Seattle Seahawks can feel as confident as they once did regarding the jobs their kickers will do in divisional-round games this weekend.

David Akers will proceed as the 49ers' kicker after withstanding a challenge from the recently signed Billy Cundiff, coach Jim Harbaugh announced Thursday. That is no shock. Cundiff had an even lower percentage while kicking for Washington this season.

If the 49ers are going to risk losing a game because of their kicker, they might as well do it with Akers, who has made important kicks for the team -- including a record-tying 63-yarder against Green Bay in Week 1.

Ryan Longwell, who last kicked in an NFL game for Minnesota in 2011, will make his Seahawks debut in Atlanta after the team placed Steven Hauschka on injured reserve.

The first chart at right shows regular-season field-goal percentages by distance. One column shows percentages for all games played indoors. The other column shows percentages for games played outdoors on natural grass, as the case will be for Akers and Packers counterpart Mason Crosby on Saturday.

Longwell kicked indoors regularly while with the Vikings. He'll get to do so again for the Seahawks in the Georgia Dome. If Seattle advances, Longwell would then kick at San Francisco or on the road against his first NFL team, the Green Bay Packers. Both play outdoors in potentially difficult conditions.

Accuracy rates drop significantly from about 45 yards and longer for attempts outdoors on grass. I'll be watching to see whether coaches opt to go for it when facing manageable fourth-down distances while stalled between roughly the opponent's 28- and 38-yard lines.

Akers' percentages have been down this season. For a while, the decline was related mostly to Akers having fewer chances from close range, a reflection of improved play in the red zone. His accuracy from 50-plus yards also dropped from what had been an unusually high level in 2011.

As the season has progressed, Akers' struggles have become more pronounced. His percentage from 40-44 yards jumps out in the chart showing his stats from last season to this season. Those are kicks NFL teams expect to make.

Back in a bit with something unrelated to kickers.