I was reading an otherwise great article today at Grantland by Bill Barnwell that pointed out how bad a job Jacksonville Jaguars GM Gene Smith is at his job, when a snippet caught my attention. While talking about Josh Scobee and his contract from the Jags, a footnote said the following about Phil Dawson.
Given that kickers are incredibly inconsistent from year to year, I still suspect that the Scobee deal will end up looking bad in a couple of years. And yes, two other franchise kickers (Phil Dawson and Matt Prater) have also been perfect this year, but given that they were both below-average in terms of their accuracy last year before being franchised, does that really prove that kicker accuracy is a predictable thing?
Granted, Barnwell didn’t say anything about Phil Dawson and his abilities. He very well could have been speaking more to the value proposition of franchising a position like kicker where the return on investment is inconsistent. Then again, just in case he was besmirching the impeccably awesome name of Phil Dawson, I’ve prepared an over-reactive defense of everyone’s favorite Browns kicker. And honestly, why shouldn’t I considering the fact that pretty much every miss of Phil Dawson’s 2011 wasn’t his fault?
Let’s start with the stats. Phil Dawson was 24 for 29 in 2011 which is 82.8%. That tied him with Jason Hanson for 17th in the league in terms of field goal percentage. Dawson’s misses need additional exploration though, especially given the fact that the Browns ended up parting ways with long-snapper Ryan Pontbriand in the middle of the season.
Phil Dawson had a perfect season going until the sixth game of the season against Seattle. Dawson was 7-7 heading into the game against Charlie Whitehurst and the boys. He left the game 9-11 after not one, but two field goals were blocked by Red Bryant. As you’ll see in the pic below, he was pretty deep in the backfield too. Hard to blame Dawson for that.
Dawson then went perfect in San Francisco and Houston going three for three. Then, Dawson went four for five against the Rams. That one miss? Ryan Pontbriand rolled the snap to Brad Maynard. That field goal miss was catastrophic too by the way. The Browns lost that game 13-12.
Fast forward to the very next game against Jacksonville, Phil Dawson scowled at the referees as they called his field goal no good despite the fact that it appeared to go straight over the upright. Go ahead and hit Dawson for that one by leaving it in the judges hands, I guess. Usually Phil likes to put them right down the middle and he wasn’t able to do so on this day. Still, the evidence at least pushes it to the “controversial” category.
Finally, Phil missed a 55 yarder against the Bengals in a 23-20 loss. After the game, Ryan Pontbriand said, “It was a bad snap – really bad.” That was November 27th and Ryan Pontbriand was let go by the Browns two days later on the 29th. This is not to pile on Ryan Pontbriand who Cleveland fans loved and appreciated for almost every second of his tenure in Cleveland. Still, it is more than just noteworthy when looking at Phil Dawson’s stats from 2011.
Dawson went six for six through the rest of the season including one December game in Cleveland and one in Pittsburgh before ending the season on January 1st to end the Browns’ season going three for three in a 13-9 loss to the Steelers. No kicker is perfect and a kicking game relies on everyone doing their job well. Speaking specifically about Phil Dawson in 2011, it is very difficult to figure out how he could have been much more perfect. The one over the bar should have been centered, and the rest probably weren’t his fault. If everything goes the Browns’ way in the kicking game a year ago, Phil Dawson probably deserved to be 28-29. That didn’t happen, but let’s just say Phil Dawson earned his money.
So just in case you think you can stare at statistics and box scores to determine a kicker’s accuracy, I’m here to tell you differently. Also, anyone who has a vote may feel free to reference this when affirmatively voting to put Phil Dawson in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton.