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Deconstructing Mason Crosby

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Deconstructing Mason Crosby

Mason Crosby took a lot of heat today, and like it or not, he's earned it.  No, he doesn't deserve death threats or people harassing him on Twitter, but like any player, coach, or GM with any NFL team, he can take criticism when its coming to him.

For all the fans who are calling for Crosby to be cut, I have some good news and some bad news.  The bad news (for you) is that he's not going anywhere soon.  However, the good news (for you) is that the definition of "soon" is getting to be a much brighter light at the end of the tunnel, given his official two misses today (and technically, three misses, thanks to Jim Schwartz's laughable time out that should have allowed Mason to adjust).

First of all, as we go about deconstructing Crosby, let's get a couple arguments out of the way:

* "This isn't Crosby's fault. McCarthy should be calling better plays so that he doesn't have to kick so many field goals."

Nope. The offense struggled, and some of McCarthy's playcalls today were mind-boggling.  But any time a kicker is trotted out to kick a field goal, its about the same as a player shooting a free throw in basketball.  In fact, its like sending out a free throw specialist. His job is purely to hit that free throw, and really, there's no one else to blame.  Rodgers can share some of his problems on poor protection, dropped passes, and bad playcalling.  The decision to call a "field goal play" is pretty much totally on the snap/hold/kick, and that's Crosby's job.

Now, if Crosby was Max Zendejas, I might be a little more accommodating towards his long misses, including his 50-yarder today. But when you are a kicker of his stature and contract status, the expectation is that the 50-yarders-and-shorter are rare misses.  Rare. And the kicks from the 50's should be given a reasonable (75% or better) shot of going through the uprights.

In short, Crosby doesn't need excuses. He needs to do his job.

* "The field goal misses didn't hurt us today."

No, it didn't.  But that attitude of "just good enough" is what seemed to define the attitude about the Packers down the home stretch last season, when the defense started looking sieve-like and Rodgers' magic seemed to lose its luster.  When the Packers met a playoff team in the "second season" where intensity turns up 150%, "just good enough" wasn't good enough anymore.

In short, we do need to be concerned about these misses, whether they make a difference right now in the win-lose column or not. Someday, likely in the playoffs or in a game with implications for the playoffs, the Packers will be sitting with 4th-and-5 on the other team's 34-yard line with seconds on the clock and a dangerously close score. We can't wait until it is imperative to fix the problem to fix the problem.

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So, what's the issue?  Is it mental or a mechanical problem? And the answer is: it's probably both. I wrote about Crosby and made the analogy to the golf game a few months ago (and kept waiting for Troy Aikman to give me a hat tip as he repeated it over and over today on the broadcast).  Indeed, he is compensating, and overcompensating. That was pretty clear after the time out that negated his first wide-right kick. His other misses each went wide left.

He's thinking way too much about every muscle, every movement, every adjustment his body makes throughout his kick. Heck, I just went through this last night, going bowling for the first time in a few years. Hit three strikes in a row in the first game, had a relatively nice score of 158. But in my second game, I held on to the ball too long and threw a cross-lane gutter. I spent the rest of the game over-thinking my release, and lost the focus I needed to properly aim and curve the ball.  Second game: 106.

But, watching his kicks today, I noticed something out of the ordinary, especially on the final one that he made.  The ball is taking some sharp, almost random slices to either side. Going back and thinking about his misses, you're never seeing smooth, straight-line kicks that just slowly steer away from the goal posts in a long arc.  His kicks always suddenly veer left or right on the ascent. Lately, those sudden veerings have just kept going one way or another, resulting in huge misses you could see coming a mile away.

But on today's made field goal, you saw a sudden swerve mid-flight to the right, which then steadied itself and resulted in sliding inside the right goal post. It's almost like he doesn't know which way it is going to swerve after he kicks it, like it has three "swerve checkpoints" along the kick and they just have to average out to go straight.

This, to me, is a mechanical issue, and goes back to a long-time criticism of Shawn Slocum, who finds it necessary to play with his kicker's mechanics when he doesn't need to (and fails to intervene when he should).  Crosby's already gone through a litany of excuses with Slocum...he's rushing his kicks, he's kicking too hard, he's overcompensating, he needs to simplify things.

In the end, the problem seems to be with how he's actually striking the ball...the actual location where his foot hits the ball and how he's following through on the kick. It's giving his attempts a "knuckleball" feel to them...kind of like a knuckleball pitcher doesn't quite know where his pitches are going to land, but they'll certainly fool the batter into looking for a strike when its not even close. The movement of the knuckleball is effective in baseball, but not for an NFL kicker.

And the analogy goes, if you want to stop throwing knuckleballs, get your knuckles off the ball.

So, Crosby has his work cut out for him, and judging from the look on his face today, he's entering the dangerous stage that Brett Conway hit during preseason in 1997, after missing five field goal attempts in a game and injuring himself by overkicking the next day in practice.  He freaked out. He took his mental quandary and made it a physical quandary, which then became even more of a mental quandary.

This is a critical time in Crosby's career, and deconstructing both his mental mechanics and his physical mechanics at the same time is going to be why Shawn Slocum gets paid the big bucks.

In the end, fixing Mason Crosby would end up being a lot better in the long run for the Packers. Sure, there are plenty of free agent kickers out there, but you don't have to look far to realize you are far more likely to end up with a Max Zendajas than a Jan Stenerud.  But, if the problems are NOT fixed, Crosby will be worth no more than any of those kickers, and that's a terrible way for his career to end in Green Bay.

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C.D. Angeli is a feature writer for CheeseheadTV.com, and co-host of Cheesehead Radio, part of the Packers Talk Radio Network at PackersTalk.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TundraVision.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (36) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Jack's picture

" It’s almost like he doesn’t know which way it is going to swerve after he kicks it, like it has three “swerve checkpoints” along the kick and they just have to average out to go straight."

The fact that this sentence was written about an NFL kicker is absolutely terrifying.

Norman's picture

No, just the fact that it was written about OUR kicker.

Fish . Crane's picture

No need to read anymore comments...sums it up. Sorry mason. But there is no shortage of unemployed kickers that can make 50 yarders in domes

T's picture

Actually there isn't much of a "pool" of kickers available. Sadly Mason is probably the best of the bunch.

A big point no one else mentions, is Crosby is our kicker for every Kickoff.

Denver's picture

Damn, a Brett Conway mention makes me wonder what Longwell is up to these days (assuming he's finally removed his head from #4's rear end).

Denver's picture

Actually, I take that back...just checked Longwell's stats from last year. Not pretty....

QOTSA1's picture

The Packers are really in a unenviable position right now.

Crosby has more talent than any kicker who would be available, but how long can you keep trotting him out there not knowing if he can make a 35 yard field goal.

Do you make the change to someone who might be more reliable, but has less of a leg, or stick with Crosby and hope he can get his stuff straightened out?

FITZCORE 1252'S EVO's picture

Holding out hope for "talented" players has been known to get coaches fired.

Jamie's picture

Let's start with NO MORE long kick attempts...not even in practice.

He came into the league as a kid with a super-strong leg that can make from 60+ regularly, and having to live up to that kind of leg talent has split his focus in practice and that has carried into games. It's been that way his entire career.

His approach needs to focus on repeating one solid stroke, not two, and gaining confidence with the one.

I don't care if he doesn't try another 55+ yard kick the rest of his career.

tundravision's picture

I don't think you can make a change at this point, unless you really know what you're getting. A Mason in the hand is worth two Jarrett Bush. Or something like that.

We know that Crosby can be a good kicker. Maybe not a great kicker, or a Pro Bowl kicker, but a good one. We know very little about the talent out there right now except they are either young and inexperienced or past their prime.

I'm not attacking him. However, I'm not going to defend him blindly, either. Time to fix it.

NoWayJose's picture

I think you're right about him not going anywhere this year CD.

But he's paid like a Pro Bowl kicker. The numbers aren't going to add up next year unless we see a dramatic turnaround.

Mike's picture

Crosby needs to get this figured out - FAST! Dustin Hopkins - you're officially on TT's draft board now!

tundravision's picture

Interestingly enough, I just wrote another piece this morning on how the Packers really don't have draft picks to spare next season, which is why they would really like to see EDS succeed. With likely targets at RB, OT, LB, DL and depth needed at WR, OL/C, DL, and DB..using a draft pick on a kicker is a luxury they can't afford.

Jamie's picture

Not sure I can agree with any type of assertion that TT will go into a draft planning to take (or not take) certain position(s)...with the exception of punter. TT hasn't and will never operate that way, for which I am very glad.

tundravision's picture

Tell you what...while I don't think he drafts for position, I DO think he drafts for the BPAAPON (Best Player Available At Position of Need). If you look at his past few drafts, he's actually been spending picks where there's been needs or anticipated needs (Cobb for Jennings, Hayward for Woodson) and some just where we need people (Perry at OLB, Worthy for the gap left behind by Jenkins). I think if you'd look at the past few drafts, they're not quite as BPA as his first three or four.

Packattack88's picture

Actually, in my opinon, Ted uses a pure BPA strategy. The reason that it appears somewhat needs based is that Ted moves around his picks so that he can select players of need at the point that they're the BPA at that spot. This way, picks' values are maximized by moving up and down without reaching and losing value while selecting players that are needed. See the Jerel Worthy pick as an example. Also, I'm not sure how BPAAPON would be any different than needs based drafting. Are you suggesting than some teams don't select the best player when they select for needs?

Chad Toporski's picture

I'd say it depends on what your definition of "BPA" is.

tundravision's picture

I think it depends on what your definition of "is" is.

Barutan Seijin's picture

I've always thought that Crosby's big leg reputation is unjustified. We all know how he struggles with the longer kicks. However, his kickoffs have never been that impressive, either. Had the league not moved the kickoffs up to the 35, he might be unemployed.

My somewhat sadistic way of getting rid of him is to play him at running back next week. Call it a revival of the old Paul Hornung tradition. He'll either quit, get injured -- or outperform the other backs.

Mojo's picture

Agree. Does anybody notice how the opposing kickers routinely out distance Crosby on kickoffs? Same conditions for both kickers. I know Crosby is instructed to try and place some kickoffs short of the goal-line to the corner, but other times when he booms away it takes a line drive to get it deep into the end zone. I think compared to most other NFL kickers, Crosby's vaunted leg strengh is a myth. And wait until it gets cold.

He is good on onside kicks though.

pooch's picture

T.T swallow your fucking pride and call Ryan Longwell before M.C costs us the Bear game

FITZCORE 1252'S EVO's picture

The only player I long for on duh bares is Gould. He misses from time to time, but when it matters... Dude's fuggin money.

Tommyboy's picture

I'm definitely not as convinced as you, CD, that Crosby will be the team come Tuesday.

Tommyboy's picture

Never mind - just saw the press conference.

Kelly's picture

Great analysis, CD (and points for mentioning Max Zendejas!)

It may have been a mechanical issue, but I think this has become psychological at this point.

For example, even thinking Crosby is going to go for it on a 56 yard field goal (fake fake kick notwithstanding) is going to be a self-fulfulling prophesy of failure.

Honestly, I think at this point, he needs to stop thinking about mechanics and just be. Sounds hippy, I know. He needs to sort out the head space, anxiety, whatever before he's going to be able to right his own ship.

Idiot Fan's picture

Yep. There comes a point where thinking about mechanics becomes detrimental. I think his recently developed knuckleball suggests over-tinkering with his mechanics.

Fish . Crane's picture

Sure like to see Crosby spread out the formation four wide and throw the ball.

Norman's picture

I'm just glad long snappers don't have similar slumps. Could you imagine the chaos? The two positions aren't really that different when you think of it, the same repetitive motion over and over, under lots of pressure.

Jack's picture

Maybe someone should spike Crosby's Gatorade with vodka. That'd relax him.

Lucky953's picture

What would Vince do?
You've got one week to fix it or you're gone. No excuses. You're not only paid to kick the ball. You're paid to keep your head on straight. You have to do both or you don't have a job.

Bryce's picture

He has one job. He only has to do one thing. One. And yet…

Jay's picture

I can't understand why he is still on this team. He has always struggled with pressure kicks, and now is struggling with all kicks. I was shocked when they gave him the contract extension. They should have cut him the day he made the bell tower commercial, it was all downhill from there. There are plenty of capable unemployed kickers out there.

tundravision's picture

And yet, the Redskins were just having open kicker tryouts. The Patriots were just having open kicker tryouts. The Texans were just having open kicker tryouts.

If there are slough of fantastic kickers sitting out there on the open market, they're not there anymore.

Lou's picture

The only reason Crosby is still on the roster today is the fact that the team is owned by the community. All of the other privately "owned" teams would send him packing this week unless he was the owners son-in-law. The troubles are not just this season, do your homework, he has a history of choking under pressure every season but it is glossed over because of his kickoff (distance and onside) ability. McCarthy's only losing season was due to his choking, check it out, they would have been at least 500 if he had hit half of the required kicks under pressure. His only game winner came in his rookie year.

packeraaron's picture

<em>The only reason Crosby is still on the roster today is the fact that the team is owned by the community.</em>

Sorry Lou, but that's absurd.

tundravision's picture

Oh, Aaron, come on. Now that I'm a shareholder, I get SurveryMonkey emails every freaking day from Ted Thompson asking me for my opinions on who the Packers should start, cut, or sign. Did you see the Packers didn't run their base 3-4 ONCE yesterday? That was all ME, buddy. "NO 3-4 DEFENSE EVER!!!!" [submit]

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