clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Analysis: Buffalo Bills kicker Stephen Hauschka’s 2018 season derailed by multiple factors

New, comments

With a dip in performance for Stephen Hauschka, many fans point toward a late-season injury as the culprit. We examine that and more.

Stephen Hauschka, AKA “Hausch-Money” was far less automatic this past year than in previous seasons. Even a short stretch of bad kicks is able to sink a season, and fans likely recall a hip injury late in the season from a cheap shot against the New York Jets. That event begins our search to figure out what went wrong and, of course, if we should expect a bounce-back season for Hauschka. There’s a couple GIFs at the end, but be warned, this is mostly an affair for tables and data.


Season summary

The most important measure of a kicker is accuracy and that’s where we begin our dive. Stephen Hauschka hit 78.6% of his field goal attempts in 2018. For the fraction lovers that’s just a touch better than 3/4. For Hauschka this is his worst accuracy since 2009 when he was with the Baltimore Ravens. After that season he was picked up by the Seattle Seahawks and hadn’t fallen below 83% until 2018. Interestingly, Hauschka was also asked to do less, attempting a field goal only 28 times. This was his lowest total since 2012.

Compared to his peers (kickers with 10 or more attempts), Hauschka doesn’t stack up any better than he does against his past self. Hauschka’s 78.6% has him all the way at number 28 in the league. League average was about 84% and the league leader (Robbie Gould) broke 97%.

So what happened?

Injury

As noted above, with a data set that includes 28 attempts, a short stretch of bad kicking can have disastrous results. The hip injury suffered against the Jets in Week 14 stands out as a potential event that could cause such a stretch.

The bottom line shows the season total for reference, with the light blue bars summarizing Stephen Hauschka’s performance before and after the injury. The cheap shot occurred right before halftime, and gives us a clean split of half a game.

Splitting the season into pre- and post-injury we see a clear division in performance. Prior to the injury, Hauschka hit 86% of his field goals, which is slightly above average. That rating would have had him ranked 16th in the league. After the injury it dove to 57% which would have been the worst of the 35 qualifying kickers.

Matt Darr

The relationship between a kicker and his holder is an important one and Stephen Hauschka had a rotating cast to help him out this season. Matt Darr was picked up and played in the last five games. Let’s see if this event reveals anything fun.

Using the pre- and post-Darr splits, we shift backwards by one-and-a-half games. We also get a very intriguing result. Prior to signing Matt Darr, Stephen Hauschka hit 94% of his field goals, which would have been good for fourth-best in the league if he had been able to maintain that success rate. Post-Darr is even worse than the post-injury split at 55%.

Playing devil’s advocate, between the injury and Matt Darr events, there is a difference of two missed kicks on four attempts. One of which (Miami Dolphins) was a 55-yard “not-a-gimme” try. The other was a blocked attempt right before the cheap shot that injured Hauschka versus the Jets. On the other hand, in the Miami game, Hauschka also had his only failed extra point attempt the entire season (Darr’s first game).

How often was he asked to kick longer attempts?

Further kicks inherently are lower percentage, so if Hauschka was asked to do it more often, naturally his accuracy would suffer. To examine this, we calculated the percentage of total attempts made from 40 yards or more for all of our qualifying kickers. Stephen Hauschka was asked to kick from this range on 61% of his attempts (17 of 28 kicks). In 2018, this was the third-highest rate among qualifying kickers. Daniel Carlson led the way with 71% of kicks being from 40 yards or more. His total accuracy edged out slightly ahead of Hauschka but below league average at 81%. Behind Carlson, Zane Gonzalez was asked to kick from 40 yards out or better on 64% of his tries. He was the worst overall kicker, making only 64% of his total kicks. At this point you may be curious about the relationship between how often a kicker is asked to hit from 40 or longer and total accuracy. Here’s a graph.

Using the trend line for total accuracy (dotted orange line), we do see a slight correlation of decreasing accuracy as kickers are asked to attempt a higher rate of long field goals. If we ignore the trend line, there’s plenty of kickers like Dustin Hopkins who do just fine with an increased rate of long field-goal attempts.

As a final consideration, I thought it would be fun to see if Sean McDermott took it easy on Stephen Hauschka after the injury and backed off the rate at which he was asked to kick from 40 or more yards. For even more fun, I tossed in the Darr splits. Time for one more table.

From a numerical standpoint, Hauschka was asked to do fewer 40-49 and 50+ attempts after the injury (or after Darr if you prefer that split). With fewer games to work from before those events though, rates become more important. The table shows per-game rates. To interpret using an example, the pre-injury rate of 0.48 attempts per game at the 50+ range suggests he was asked to make a 50+ yard kick about once every two games.

Using the Darr event to split, Hauschka was asked to kick 50+ yard field goals at essentially the same rate before and after. At the 40-49 yard range, there was actually an increase in the rate he was asked to kick after Darr was signed.

The more significant event for this discussion (the injury) shows a marked decrease in rate when it comes to 50+ yard field goals, suggesting McDermott was considering the injury to Hauschka. At the 40-49 yard range we, again, see an increase post-event. That means McDermott wasn’t generally shy about asking his injured kicker to try from that range.

Change in kicking motion?

Poor camera angles and the exacting nature of kicking makes it very difficult to give this analysis the All-22 treatment. Let’s take a look at two kicks, one each before and after injury and see what we can uncover.

This first kick came in Week 5 against the Tennessee Titans and was good from 46 yards.

This kick was against the Dolphins in Week 17 and missed from 42 yards out.

The camera angles aren’t exactly the same and a lot can be lost between frames so this is about as good as I can do. The tilted camera makes me think that Darr is holding the ball straight up and down but I’m not completely sure. That kick is also from the middle of the field, whereas the first is from the hashes. That could explain the difference in holding angle (kicking experts feel free to weigh in). I could point out a couple body position differences, but I’ll let the reader/viewer decide for themselves.


Summary

Late in the season you couldn’t ask for a much worse situation for a kicker. An injury to the hip has to be a consideration, which the data backs up. A new holder to develop chemistry with—who happened to be at least the fourth person Hauschka had worked with in 2018—certainly didn’t help matters. Add those factors onto an unusually high rate of long kicks and it shouldn’t be a surprise that Hausch-money was off his game.

Heading into the 2019 season, there’s no anticipation that Matt Darr will return and Stephen Hauschka has plenty of time to heal. Early and mid-season Hauschka was excellent. Out of eleven attempts from 40 yards or more before Matt Darr joined the team, all but one kick went through the uprights.