Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Trying to Quantify the Jeff Reed Issue

There have been no kickoffs returned for touchdowns through the first four games of 2010, no return to the return game horrors of 2009 or chances for Jeff Reed to indifferently flail as a runner goes whizzing by him, of which I think can safely saw we all saw enough last season. Still, with all the talk of Reed’s culpability for the Steelers loss on Sunday, I thought I should take a look at his numbers through the years. I started off with the assumption that last year and the first four games of this year were probably the worst stretch we’ve seen from him since he was hired in 2002, but I wanted to see how the stats actually graded out.

Kickers are hard to break down. Not the field goals, so much, but even there, what is a gimme in a dome or a warm dry stadium like, San Diego, is not necessarily easy at Heinz Field or Soldier Field. And of course, it varies from end to end at Heinz Field and what’s makeable in September is less so in December.

Then, there are the kick off returns, which are complicated because there are or can be mitigating coverage issues. Not every kick off returned for a touchdown is the kicker's fault. Although, off the top of my head, I can think of two times when I’d say that returned kicks were Skippy’s fault last year. Giving up four kick off returned for touchdowns was twice as many as any other NFL team. Putrid.

ESPN and NFL.com keep stats on return yards, but not on the kickoffs themselves, so trying to figure out where his k.o.’s were coming down - in the endzone or at the 15 - means culling through the game books for eight seasons. Yeah ... I'm thinking about that. If any elves out there want to join in the effort, I’ll give you a box of swedish fish.

So, what follows is a quick look at the average yards per kick return and any touchdowns allowed. Then taking a look at field goals. I'm grading on your grade school A+ to F- model. (I was going to use my own scale of marvelous to appalling, but that got adjectively cumbersome.)

I’m going to give him a grade for kickoff returns and one for field goals. I think an argument could be made that his primary role is to kick figgies, that if the Tomlin had a gun to his head and had to choose: either the guy can boom the ball on kickoffs OR he can be a reliable field goal kicker, he'd chose the latter. So, I’m going to weigh the field goal grade twice as much as the kickoff grade (2/3-1/3). I know what you’re saying, I didn’t know there’d be math, but stick with it.

Through four games, the Steelers rank in the cluster of 25 teams who have not yet allowed a TD on a kick return and they have allowed an average of 21.9 yards per kick return, good for 10th in the NFL. Those are both really good numbers. We should all be pleased.
Kickoff grade: B+
Reed has made only two-thirds of his field goals. Only two other kickers in the league have worse percentages. That stinks, but he is 7 for 7 at distances of up to 40 yards, but he's 0-fer between 40 and 49 yards. Now, Heinz Field is a hard place to kick and one of his four misses was a 55 yard attempt (what was Tomlin thinking?), but still, this is a failing grade. Not quite an F, but
Field Goal grade: D
Average grade for 2010: C-

I don’t even have to look at the stats to tell you what grade the kickoff game is getting, but for purposes of clarity, they ranked 27th in average yards per return and gave up four touchdowns, worst in the league by a long shot.
Kickoff game: F-
Skippy made 87% of his figgies last year, good for 9th in the league, plus he hit 4 of 5 between 40-49 yards. Those are good marks, not perfect, but very good.
Field Goal grade: A-
Average Grade for 2009: C+

Ah, the salad days: zero kicks returned for touchdowns and an average of just 19.1 yards per return, good for first in the league.
Kickoff grade: A+
Skippy was 14th in field goal percentage at 87.1% (same as 2009) and was 9 of 12 over 40 yards, one of those being longer than 50.
Field Goal grade: B+
Average Grade for 2008: A

The kick return game allowed one touchdown and ranked 16th in average yards per return.
Kickoff grade: C
Skippy had the best field goal percentage in the league. Nuff said as far as I’m concerned.
Field Goal grade: A+
Average Grade for 2007: B+

Kickoff return yards averaged 22.4, 18th in the league; they yielded one touchdown, but only two teams in the league gave up more. This is a pretty fair to middling grade, but on the lower end of fair to middling.
Kickoff grade: D+
Skippy also had a terrible year hitting figgies, good just 74.1% of the time, or 26th in the league. Ouch. And he had misses inside the 30 and inside the 40. Double ouch.
Field Goal grade: F
Average Grade for 2006: D

Zero touchdowns and they ranked 18th in average yards returned. That’s pretty good.
Kickoff grade: B+
Reed hit 82.8% of his field goals and was perfect inside of 40 yards. That’s a good year. Not a great year, but a good year.
Field Goal grade: B+
Average Grade for 2005: B+

15th in the league in average return yards, with one touchdown.
Kickoff grade: B
Reed hit nearly 85% of his FGs (10th overall), but gets some demerits. He missed one inside 30 and one inside 40.
Field Goal grade: C+
Average Grade for 2004: B-

They were in the top 10 for average return yards, but they gave up one touchdown.
Kickoff grade: B+
This was a bad year for Reed, who hit just 71.9% of his figgies. Moreover, he missed three inside the 30.
Field Goal grade: F
Average grade for 2003: D

So there you have it. Skippy’s best and worst years. Clearly, he had a monster year in 2008, coincidentally when the Steelers won the Super Bowl and in 2005, also coincidentally when the Steelers won the Super Bowl. I don’t know if there’s a cause and effect thing going on or if his performance just mirrors the rest of the team, i.e., the whole team was appalling in 2003 and so was Reed; the whole team was great in 2008 and so was Reed.

Also, try to grade him out yourself. My method, as you can see is highly scientific ...

But consider this, every time he graded out lower than a B-, he had a bounce back year the next year. Terrible season in 2003, followed by good one in 2004. Awful performance in 2006 and a really solid year in 2007. What is troubling me now is that last year he graded out with a C+ and this year he’s sitting on a C-, the only time he’s turned in C or lower grades in back to back years.

Is it the beginning of the end of Reed's productivity? Is he less than fully committed because he’s miffed about his contract? The franchise tag? His deep-seated, pathological hatred of paper towel dispensers? Who knows what goes on in the mind of Jeff Reed?