Is Vikings kicking curse really just an organizational oversight?

Yes, there’s anecdotal evidence across Vikings history that supports the notion of a kicking curse.
Who could forget Gary Anderson missing in the 1999 NFC Championship Game against the Atlanta Falcons, or Blair Walsh shanking a chip shot that would have won a first-round playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks? Both went wide left. As if there was any other way for a kicker to miss.
It goes beyond the marquee meltdowns, though, as the Vikings have had little to no stability at the position over the past couple of decades. In fact, there have been 10 different kickers run through the Twin Cities since 1998 alone, with brief cameos from no-name guys such as Aaron Elling and Paul Edinger.
There seems to be an uncontrollable urge from the Vikings to move on to the next guy. They rarely stick with a kicker through a rough patch. Curse? Maybe it’s just organizational oversight of a position that oftentimes goes overlooked.
As former Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell noted in an interview with the Pioneer Press this week, “Sometimes the grass ain’t greener.”
To make his point, Longwell pointed to Green Packers kicker Mason Crosby, specifically how the organization stuck with him through the 2012 season in which he only made 64 percent of his field goal attempts. Nearly a decade later Crosby is still the kicker and has made 100 percent of his field goal attempts this season.
“They stuck by his side because 1) they know how tough it is to kick at Lambeau Field and 2) they knew that he had the talent to work his way out of it,” Longwell said. “You look big picture at the organizations that stick with their guys and they rarely have to deal with the revolving door.”
It’s almost as if the Vikings could learn something from trying to emulate their biggest rival.
They appear to be trying, anyway, sticking with struggling kicker Dan Bailey amid the worst two-week stretch of his career. Most people within the organization have defended Bailey this week, and it appears he will be the guy in Sunday’s must-win game against the Chicago Bears.
“He’s a very even-keeled guy that has a history of being a terrific kicker in this league,” said coach Mike Zimmer, who doesn’t exactly have a reputation of being patient with his kickers. “There’s not one guy on our football team that hasn’t had a bad day. That’s just part of life. We are not going to dwell on it. Everybody else will.”
That statement from Zimmer shows growth on his part. This is the same guy that wrecked rookie Daniel Carlson’s confidence a few years ago; fittingly, Carlson has emerged as a star with the Las Vegas Raiders.
“I think they learned as an organization that they probably pulled the trigger too quick on Daniel Carlson,” Longwell said. “Now, it worked out because they found Dan Bailey, and he’s been unbelievably good. That said, when Dan Bailey is unbelievably good, and they start to take that for granted, they can lose sight on how important the operation is.”
While the Vikings deserve credit for sticking with Bailey for now, according to Longwell, they also deserve criticism for continuously treating the operation of snap, hold, kick as separate entities. There still appears to be a disconnect on that front that might help explain why Bailey has gone 3 for 10 on kicks this month.
“When I look at Dan Bailey, I’m not seeing a guy that’s forgotten how to kick, I’m seeing a guy that’s out of rhythm,” Longwell said. “You can tell by his follow through that he’s completely out of rhythm. It’s not hard to pinpoint the reason for the struggles. They changed the long snapper a month ago.”
That’s not an indictment on new long snapper Andrew DePaola. He hasn’t had a bad snap since taking over for former long snapper Austin Cutting. But it goes deeper than simply throwing strikes, as timing is something developed over months of repetition. It’s a precise science, and a tenth of a second faster or slower can throw off the entire operation.
“You have to understand from an organizational standpoint how big of a difference a change of that magnitude can be this late in the season,” Longwell said. “It’s easy to say from the front office upstairs that, ‘Oh. This guy is better. Look at the snaps.’ That’s also an example of not looking at it as an entire operation.”
Asked whether he thinks changing the long snapper has made a difference, special teams coordinator Marwan Maalouf said, “There could be some type of aspect to that, and if that’s the case, hopefully we get him back on track even faster.”
That’s easier said than done. Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker is widely regraded as the best in the business — maybe the greatest of all time — but it certainly helps that he’s had Morgan Cox as his long snapper and Sam Koch as his holder for his entire career.
There’s been an investment in that operation as a whole and it consistently pays dividends.
Heck, when Tucker lined up for a 55-yard field goal attempt earlier this week on Monday Night Football, nobody in their right mind thought he was going to miss. Sure enough, Tucker nailed the kick as time expired, and the Ravens beat the Cleveland Browns.
“It’s not hard to look for these examples,” Longwell said. “You see the teams that stick with their guys and invest in the operation and it’s worked out for decades. If people would take ego out of the equation and look at the facts, the answers are all there. This is not a hard thing to figure out.”
Yet the kicking struggles persist across the league.
It’s not just the Vikings. The Bears refused to pay veteran kicker Robbie Gould, a decision that led to Cody Parkey’s infamous playoff double-doink that might have cost them a trip to the Super Bowl. They haven’t been able to find a consistent kicker since, and Gould is 15 for 17 on field goal attempts and perfect on extra points for the San Francisco 49ers this season.
“It is funny how it’s usually the same organizations going through kicker struggles,” Longwell said. “It’s like if they go through a phase where everything seems stable and good, they think they have it all figured out. They start to change things here, or try to save money there, and the eventually same things they are trying to avoid start to play out again.”
Which brings everything full circle back to the Vikings.
As much as Bailey has struggled over the past couple of weeks, he’s undoubtedly the best option at present, and likely the best option in the future.
“They literally have on their hands at least a Top 8 kicker in the league when he’s firing on all cylinders,” Longwell said. “He’s a a proven commodity that went through a tough stretch that is very explainable when looking at the big picture.”
“Unfortunately the track record of the organization is not really good with staying with guys,” Longwell added. “Hopefully they have learned that what they have on their hands is really, really good. It’s such a big risk to make a change and have to go through this all over again.”
Vikings place-kickers since Gary Anderson joined the team in 1998:
Kicker                     YRS              G        FGM/FGA              XPM/XPA
Gary Anderson       1998-2002     78      109/129 (84.5%)     215/217
Doug Brien              2002              6        5/6 (83.3%)            5/7
Aaron Elling             2003-04        23      18/25 (72.1%)         48/48
Morten Andersen     2004             16      18/22 (81.8%)         45/45
Paul Edinger            2005             16       25/34 (73.5%)        31/31
Ryan Longwell         2006-11         96      136/157 (86.0%)    228/233
Blair Walsh*             2012-16         73      133/158 (84.2)      156/165*
Kai Forbath              2016-17         23      47/53 (88.7)           45/53*
Daniel Carlson         2018              2        1/4 (25%)               6/6*
Dan Bailey               2018-2020     43       60/75 (80.0%)       97/106*
*Extra-point attempts were extended from 19- to 33-yard kicks starting in 2015.
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