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2019 Analysis: Buffalo Bills kicker Stephen Hauschka

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Were the Bills playing with Hausch-money? Or Hausch-coulda been better?

Right around midseason, a lot of people started questioning the kicking prowess of Buffalo Bills kicker Stephen Hauschka, more affectionately known as “Hausch Money.” Three missed kicks in Weeks 3-7 created unease. Then an 0-for-2 performance against the Cleveland Browns in Week 9 created a lot more than unease in a game decided by three points.

Luckily Hauschka recovered well, only missing one kick the rest of the season—a 50-yard attempt against the Dallas Cowboys. While it quieted some murmurs of “replace him,” his name won’t be looked at favorably in our kicker coverage with a 78.6% in the field-goals-made column. Let’s dive in deeper than anyone probably ever should have.

WARNING: The article you are about to read is mostly math. That’s the bad news. The good news is I invented a new stat you might like. Keep reading.


The usual stats

You should absolutely check out Pro Football Reference’s kicking and punting page right here. In addition to the 78.6% field goals made, you’ll see his extra points and field goals broken down by range.

Raw numbers aren’t great without context and that table makes it easy to see that Hauschka’s 78.6% was good for 21st in the league out of the 41 kickers in the table. If we use a population distribution like my rule of four, that’s average.

For extra points, Hauschka missed two this year, putting him just under 94% and tied for 17th place. We’ll leave this one alone and do the deeper dive on field goals partially as a result of how tight the grouping is. Additionally, there are far fewer variables on these than field goals so the basic stats are hard to improve on. Suffice it to say you’d like him to be better at these, but “perfectly average” isn’t a problem either.

Deeper dive

I couldn’t find the stats I liked so I downloaded that whole table I linked above and did my own thing. The primary reason behind a deeper dive is the idea that not all field goals are created equal. For instance, the NFL had a 100% field goal rate on attempts inside the 20 this year. Having a few extra of those might make you look better wouldn’t it? Stephen Hauschka was asked to kick those shorter attempts precisely zero times. Kicks over 50 yards had only a 57.9% chance of being made. Hauschka was asked to do five of those (he made one).

Blah, blah, blah...here’s the good stuff starting with a few fun facts:

  • Stephen Hauschka’s five 50+ yard attempts was 17.9% of his total attempts for the season. That was the 13th highest amount in the league.
  • Hauschka was asked to try ten attempts between 40-49 yards. That was good for 35.7% of his attempts which was the 16th highest amount in the league.
  • That means Hauschka was asked to kick from 40+ yards 53.6% of the time. That’s the 17th highest amount in the league, although three higher on the list had six attempts or less.

I could keep listing facts, but let’s just talk about where this kind of discussion led...

Expected Accuracy

Rather than go into a long list of ranges and ranks, I was hoping for a more comprehensive single stat that would tell us what we need. Simply put, adjusted by range, how accurate should Stephen Hauschka have been this year?

For the very quick methodology; I calculated the league’s accuracy for each distance grouping (kicks made for each distance group divided by kicks attempted). Then I used each of those percentages to see how many field goals should have been made at each distance.

So, for example, Hauschka attempted five kicks of 50+ yards. At 57.9% accuracy across the league he should have made 2.9 of them.

Then you add up the expected field goals made for each grouping. For Stephen Hauschka, adjusted by range, he should have made 22.3 field goals out of 28 attempts he made. He actually made, drum roll please, 22 kicks. In reality, he was very dang close to the expected kick amounts.

Now that we have how many kicks should have been made, we can divide it by the number of attempts to find the kick percentage he’d be expected to make. I repeated this earlier so much on purpose so you should easily recall Hauschka made 78.6% of his attempts.

His expected accuracy comes out to be 79.5%. Stephen Hauschka was less than 1% off of what you’d expect him to be.


Summary

The question these always try to answer is whether or not the Bills should seek to retain a particular player. I don’t think competition is a bad idea for Stephen Hauschka, but let me be very clear that for me it’d be a very real competition with Hauschka winning a possibility I’m open to.

Does 1% under his expected accuracy mean he was a good kicker in 2019? No. Being very close to expected is the definition of average. If we sort our kickers by the variance between their actual accuracy and expected, Hauschka has 22 players ahead of him (and 18 behind him).

I’ll leave you this thought on Stephen Hauschka. He’s had two of his worst years as a professional and still comes out as “average.” Yes that means you can get better at the position. But it also means you can get worse.