Through Oct. 14, NFL kickers had made 325 of 371 field goals. (Seth Perlman / Associated…)
The NFL would be so much more interesting if it were narrow-minded.
By that I mean the league should narrow the uprights.
With kickers steadily improving — they're on pace for their most accurate season — the league should consider reducing the current width of 18 feet, 6 inches, to create more intrigue with field goals and maybe even extra points. College goal posts are also 18-6 wide.
Fans wouldn't complain, at least the ones who constantly plead for their favorite team to go for it on fourth down instead of opting for three points.
Imagine how interesting it would be if 35-yarders were no longer "gimmes." Let no points be automatic.
"We're going to see guys get better and better; there's more science behind it now," said retired NFL kicker Michael Husted, now a kicking coach and consultant.
Husted sees squeezing the uprights as the logical next step for a league that 13 years ago introduced the K-ball to try to level the playing field for kickers and punters who historically had doctored footballs to make them fly farther.
Husted doesn't advocate pinching the goal posts as tight as those in the Arena Football League, which are only 9 feet wide (with a crossbar that's 15 feet high as opposed to the NFL's 10 feet). But he does think an adjustment is in order, even though the current width is daunting already.
"From 50 yards," Husted said, "it looks like your buddy's out there holding up his arms."
The accuracy of current NFL kickers is unbelievable. Through last Sunday's games, they had made 325 of 371 field goals (87.6%). That's significantly better than the league accuracy record of 84.5% (845 of 1,000), set in 2008.
And what we're seeing is no fluke. Young kickers are becoming increasingly specialized, fine-tuning their skills from childhood by concentrating only on that discipline — to the exclusion of other sports — and working year-round with personal kicking coaches. We're seeing the leading edge of that wave of players reaching the pros.
Consider how St. Louis rookie Greg Zuerlein has helped pump life into the Rams, booming field goals of 58 and 60 in the same game, setting and re-setting the club record, and just missing a 66-yarder — three yards longer than the NFL record — when he had plenty of leg but was wide. No wonder he's known as Legatron.
There are more phenoms in the pipeline. On Thursday, Austin Rehkow of Central Valley (Wash.) High made a 67-yarder, a yard shy of the national high school record. The standard width between high school uprights is 23-4.
If the league doesn't want to narrow the uprights, Husted has another suggestion: "I've always joked that kickers are getting so accurate, at some point they'll just have a single pole with a cowbell on top."
Now those would be three points well earned.
Peyton Manning never threw a beautiful-looking ball, but his passes earlier this season looked especially wobbly. Clearly, that wasn't a problem against the San Diego Chargers on Monday night, when he looked every bit the passer he was in his best years with the Indianapolis Colts.
Cleveland, St. Louis, Oakland — all are 0-3 on the road. But Pittsburgh? That's right, the Steelers have yet to pick up a win away from Heinz Field. Pittsburgh has a chance to rectify that Sunday at Cincinnati.
With the trajectory Philip Rivers was on a few years ago, it was logical to conclude that he'd have more success than Eli Manning, and certainly when they were in their 20s. Now, Manning has two rings, and the turnover-prone Rivers is trying to relocate his game. (I still think he will.)
Tag, you're it
Although I don't doubt Paul Tagliabue's intentions or integrity in taking over the "Bountygate" case, I would be stunned if he comes to a conclusion that favors the four suspended players. The NFL is determined to make these sanctions stick.