Previewing Stephen Gostkowski and the New England Patriots Kicking Game

Stephen Gostkowski

Training camp is just days away and the New England Patriots are in the early process of preparing for the upcoming season. While the offensive and defensive side of the ball has received plenty of attention, the kicking game has gone largely overlooked. This is mainly because the Patriots have one of the most reliable kickers in Stephen Gostkowski handling field goal and kickoff duties.

However, let’s rectify that sin. With mere days until veterans report for training camp, let’s take a look at the state of the New England Patriots kicking game. Should Patriots fans feel comfortable with Stephen Gostkowski at kicker, or should New England start looking for an upgrade?

Stephen Gostkowski and the New England Patriots Kicking Game

Field Goals

According to certain portions of Patriots Nation, Stephen Gostkowski is no longer a reliable kicker and cannot be trusted in major situations. Granted, the two-time All-Pro isn’t the kicker he once was. However, he’s still one of the best kickers in the league in terms of consistency and clutchness.

Gostkowski finished the 2017 regular season making 37 of a possible 40 field goals. This 92.5% success rate was good for fifth-best in the NFL. He was automatic from within 40 yards, converting all 25 of his short-yardage attempts. All three of his misses came from within 40-49 yards, and he hit all four of his attempts from beyond 50 yards.

Additionally, Gostkowski hit on 45 of 47 extra-point attempts. The league recently changed the PAT to a 33-yard attempt, so it is no longer the easy point it used to be. His 47 attempts were second-most in the league, and he still converted 92.5% of his PAT attempts. By all measurements, Gostkowski’s 2017 was a great season which should give Patriots fans confidence entering 2018.

History highly suggests Gostkowski’s 2017 was no fluke, as he’s one of the better kickers in the history of the league. Since entering the league back in 2006, Gostkowski has successfully hit on 87.6% of his field goal attempts. This field goal percentage ranks third all-time, behind only Justin Tucker and Dan Bailey. While nobody would call Gostkowski the third-best kicker in history, he has been one of the most reliable guys ever since he entered the league.

Clutch Kicking

While Gostkowski detractors cannot deny his regular accuracy, they will argue that he folds under pressure. In the final games of New England’s past three seasons, Gostkowski has missed a combined four kicks. On a possibly related note, the Patriots went 1-2 in those games.

While this is obviously not a good thing, there’s no reason to suspect these misses are anything more than a blip on the radar. Throughout his career, Gostkowski has been one of the better clutch kickers in football.

During his playoff career, Gostkowski has converted 89.5% of field goal attempts and 95.1% of his extra points. By comparison, former Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri has converted just 82.4% of his field goal attempts. He’s converted 100% of his extra-point attempts, but it’s worth noting Vinatieri hasn’t played a postseason game since the PAT has been moved back.

Based purely on 2017 data, Gostkowski was consistently good in big moments. Gostkowski hit on 12 of 13 field goals and 14 of 15 extra points in games decided by less than a touchdown. Basically, Gostkowski delivered every time the Patriots needed him to. While he ended his season on a bad note, there’s overwhelming evidence to suggest Gostkowski is more than capable of handling any game situation.

The Kickoff Game

Perhaps one of the most overlooked parts of football is the kickoff. Starting field position is obviously important, and nobody pays more attention to this aspect of the game than Bill Belichick. With new kickoff rules increasing the likelihood of big returns, the kickoff game could be more important than ever before.

In 2017, the Patriots kicked a touchback just 41.03% of the time, 30th in the league. However, that low percentage was very much intentional. With a touchback now resulting in the opposing offense taking over at the 25-yard line, New England has actively tried to avoid touchbacks the past few seasons.

Gostkowski was phenomenal at forcing returns. In 2017, Gostkowski averaged 62.9 yards per kickoff attempt. This means that, on average, opposing returners caught the ball at the 2-yard line. Returners couldn’t take a touchback, yet still had to work if they wanted to reach the 25-yard line. Focusing more on kick hangtime, the Patriots kickoff unit has been one of the best in the league with respect to opponents starting field position.

As previously mentioned, there is a new kickoff rule that could drastically change how teams approach the kickoff. The kickoff team is no longer allowed to get a running start prior to the kick, and the return team can only block within a predefined “setup zone”.

Essentially, this rule means there will be more open space in the middle of the field during kickoffs. Because of this, the Patriots may decide to go back to trying to get as many touchbacks as they can. If they do, there is no doubt that Gostkowski is up for the task.

2015 was the last season before touchbacks were moved to the 25-yard line. During that campaign, Gostkowski booted a league-leading 69 total touchbacks. That was just three seasons ago, and there’s no reason to think that his leg strength has decreased. Gostkowski has the resume to successfully execute any kickoff strategy New England wants.

Last Word on the Patriots Kicking Situation

As it has been since the days of Adam Vinatieri, the Patriots kicker situation should be one of the best in the league. Stephen Gostkowski is still one of the best kickers in the league and should continue to provide a reliable leg any time the Patriots call upon him.

The special teams unit should also continue to be one of the best in the league. It will be interesting to see how the new kickoff rules affect the Patriots strategy with respect to touchbacks. However, no matter what the Patriots choose to do, Gostkowski has the leg to execute the game plan. 2017 showed that Gostkowski knows how to force a return, and Gostkowski still has the leg strength to boot the ball out of the endzone and force a touchback.

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