The San Francisco 49ers were able to answer a lot of questions surrounding them during the second half of last week’s game against the Arizona Cardinals. The only remaining question as they prepare during the bye week is, “what to do with the kicking situation?”
David Akers struggled all season as he finished 29 for 42 on field goal attempts for a career low of 69 percent field goal percentage, which include four misses in the last four games. This led to the Niners bringing in several kickers to tryout. Ultimately signing former Washington Redskins kicker Billy Cundiff to come in and compete with Akers during the bye week.
The debate has raged this week on which kicker would give the Niners the best shot at success in the playoffs. Most people believe that the job should go to Akers based on his track record in the previous years. These people also feel Cundiff is a downgrade from Akers due to his recent performances. Cundiff was released by the Redskins after going 7 for 12 on field goals in the first five games this season. The moment that everyone is pointing to is his key miss in last year’s playoffs in the AFC Championship game against the New England Patriots. On paper Akers looks to be the favorite, but this game is not played on paper and Cundiff should be who the Niners tab to kick field goals for them in the playoffs.
The key factor in my belief that Billy Cundiff should be the Niners’ kicker is Akers’s complete lack of confidence. In order to be successful in the playoffs a player needs to be confident especially in the tough pressure filled situations. As of right now, Akers has no confidence in any of his kicks and it is having a negative effect on his physical ability to kick. Former Niners kicker Joe Nedney was quoted by Matt Maiocco in his recent article:
The telling sign to me is the fact is he’s missing them wide left, which means he’s not getting his hips through the ball. He’s not swinging confidently through the ball. It’s kind of what we call pokin’ and hopin’. . . I don’t blame him. He’s carrying a lot of noise into every single rep. When it’s going well, it’s quiet. You go out and do your job and get it done. Every miss compounds and there’s a little more noise in your head, there’s noise outside. You’re carrying a lot of stuff out on the field.
The playoffs are going to be a mental grind and Akers’ mental edge is completely gone. The Niners run the risk of putting the game on the shoulders of a player that has a recent track record of failing to make field goals in clutch end of the game situations. You cannot trust that in the win or go home consequences of the post season. A lot of noise is being made about the miss by Cundiff last year, but Cundiff has been pretty accurate in his career come playoff time, going 12 for 14 in eight career playoff games. Cundiff will not have nearly as much mental baggage as Akers has right now.
Another key factor in choosing Cundiff over Akers is the news that Akers had a double hernia surgery over the off-season and that he re-aggravated it during the season when he fell after kickoff as reported by Matt Barrows. This injury could be affecting his length strength, which affect not only his ability to kick from distance, but also his kickoffs as he only has a touchback percentage of 46 percent and an average of 27.1 yards per return. Cundiff is an improvement over Akers in both of these areas as he carries a 62.1 percentage touchback per and a return average of 21.6 yards per return. Maiocco also reported that Cundiff’s kicks had more pop and strength than the kicks by Akers. So not only will Cundiff possibly provide more consistency on field goals, but he can also help the kick coverage team pin opponents deep in their own territory which, also helps the defense win the field position battle.
I appreciate what David Akers accomplished last year, but he is too much of a liability for the Niners to count on in these playoffs. Billy Cundiff is the best option for the Niners going forward. So it will be interesting to see which way the management team ultimately decides to go.