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Why punish kickers for being good?

6/14/2014 - NFL

Leave it alone.

That is the advice Dallas Cowboys special-teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia is offering the National Football League regarding the line of scrimmage for point-after attempts. Don't move it to the 25-yard line, or the 20-yard line or even the 15-yard line, where it will be for the first two weeks of the upcoming preseason. Keep it at the 2. Don't punish kickers for mastering their craft.

"Peyton Manning broke the record for touchdown passes, so should we limit the amount of time you get to throw the ball because, all of a sudden, the record has been broken for touchdown passes?" Bisaccia said. "We have to be careful for how much we're changing the game."

Bisaccia is right.

At the urging of New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, the NFL will experiment in August with making the extra point tougher to execute. For several years, Belichick has harped on the subject because converting point-after attempts has become a fait accompli. A 20-yard extra point has gone like this: snap, hold, kick, good. Point scored.

Earlier this year, Belichick lobbied the NFL's competition committee to move the line of scrimmage for point-after attempts to the 25-yard line. Since 2002, the lowest conversion percentage on extra points league wide was 98.3 percent in 2009, when NFL kickers missed a collective 20 kicks. In 2012, like in 2008, kickers combined to miss only six point-after attempts. Last season, kickers missed only five and made 99.6 percent of their attempts.

But those stats are skewed. They don't take into account bad snaps, fakes or blocks, among other things, according to a league source. They only take into account when a kicker strikes the football and the ball travels past the line of scrimmage.

Nevertheless, Belichick wanted the point-after attempt to have a higher degree of difficulty. Moving the line of scrimmage would have resulted in a 43-yard attempt. In 2013, kickers converted 83 percent of field goals between 40-49 yards.

Moving the line of scrimmage back would have made kicking the ball through the uprights tougher, but it would not have necessarily made the game better.

NFL owners did not approve the change at their annual meeting in March, but the league did ultimately opt to experiment in the preseason with extra-point attempts from the 15-yard line, which would result in a 33-yard kick.

That is not appreciably harder than a 20-yard kick. In 2013, kickers converted 90 percent of kicks between 30-39 yards.

"Proficiency is a skill kickers have worked really hard at, and that part of the game has really changed," said Bisaccia, who has coached special teams for three NFL teams since 2002.

"Pete Gogolak was the first soccer-style kicker in the game. The way they kick changed only in my short lifetime of football. Unless we want to alleviate the kicker and say a position player has to kick, they're going to get better. ... We're going to penalize guys for perfecting their craft? They're getting more skilled, more proficient, but it's a skill they've had to work at."

John Harbaugh disagrees.

Before becoming the Baltimore Ravens head coach in 2008, Harbaugh spent nine of the previous 10 seasons as the Philadelphia Eagles special-teams coordinator. He helped David Akers, who went to five Pro Bowls and was named an All-Pro once during his 12-year career in Philadelphia, become one of the most reliable kickers in the NFL.

Harbaugh said he thinks it is "smart" that the league is tinkering with the line of scrimmage for part of the preseason.

"I'm for it," Harbaugh said. "I agree that it is a needlessly risky play with a 99 percent success rate. I believe it should be in the game. The 33-yarder is going to be a challenge for kickers, so it is a good idea. ... I believe the kickers will still make most of them in the 80-90 percent range, but they'll miss enough to make it interesting, especially in critical situations."

Moving the line of scrimmage for extra points would bring psychology more into the game, but it would also undoubtedly make extra points more dangerous because opposing teams would try harder to block an attempt given the altered percentages. Defenses would take more risks, not fewer.

Also, moving the line of scrimmage for point-after attempts would likely all but do away with the option of faking a two-point conversion out of a kicking formation. That scenario is almost as rare as a kicker missing an extra point, but under the current rules it remains a viable option.

The NFL game is not broken. The league is not losing money. It is not losing popularity. I'm all for changing rules in the name of safety, such as eliminating hits to the head and instituting the horse-collar penalty.

But changing a rule because players have mastered their craft makes no sense. Like Bisaccia said, what is next? Limiting the number of times a quarterback can throw the football because Manning threw for more touchdowns and most yards last season than any quarterback in league history?

That would never happen. Neither should the league mess with point-after attempts. The game is not broken. In fact, as Bisaccia said, "It's been a pretty good game."