Increasing range of 'crazy' kickers hand NFL defenses a new problem

In London on Sunday, New Orleans Saints kicker Wil Lutz smashed home a 60-yard field goal against the Minnesota Vikings.

With the last kick of the game, he struck from 61 yards for what would have been a game-tying kick, but the effort bounced back off the post and the crossbar, a double doink.

It presented the latest evidence of the growing importance kickers have for NFL teams, with their field goal range extending significantly and making it harder for the defense to keep the opposition off the scoreboard.

"I don't remember this many kickers in the league having that kind of range," Vikings coach Kevin O'Connell said after the game.

"There are a lot of guys in our league now that can swing it and hit from 60+ yards. It definitely is a factor, how you manage those end-of-game situations, how you're going to use your timeouts, use different defensive or offensive calls based upon field position knowing that the 42 or 44-yard line is in field goal range.

"We have got to be aggressive, maybe try to push them out of that range, which is crazy to say when that kick is happening on their side of the 50."

In NFL history, there have been 27 successful field goal attempts from 60 or more yards – six of which have in the last three seasons (since 2020), while 11 have come in the past six seasons (since 2017).

Field goal stat
Field goal stat

That includes the NFL record of 66 yards set in Week 3 of the 2021 season by Justin Tucker for the Baltimore Ravens against the Detroit Lions, surpassing the previous record of 64 yards set in 2013 by Matt Prater.

While attempts of 60 yards or more may still be a rare occurrence, the effectiveness of kickers from 50 or more yards has grown. In a single season, 11 players have been successful with eight or more field goals from beyond 50 yards – five of which have been since 2020.

In 2022, Chris Boswell (Pittsburgh Steelers), Graham Gano (New York Giants), Brett Maher (Dallas Cowboys) have made four from 50+ already.

While touchdowns remain the premium currency for NFL offenses, kickers can decide tight contests – which have been a trend in 2022, with 50 of 64 games featuring teams separated by just one score in the fourth quarter.

Having a kicker who is prolific from distance can ease the pressure on a misfiring offense, helping to keep them in the game, and could result in more aggressive plays on defense in an attempt to secure a turnover before points can be scored.

Defenses, though, will likely remain largely happy to see offenses settle for the lottery of such long field goals, as Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson explained.

"At the end of the day if they want to kick a 60 yarder, however far it is, be my guest. That's not a good percentage of a kick," he said.

Could the view of Peterson and defenses change? Perhaps if a few more long-range doinks go the way of the kicker.