Sep 22, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings punter Jeff Locke (12) punts to the Cleveland Browns at Mall of America Field at H.H.H. Metrodome. The Browns win 31-27. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

How Often Does Jeff Locke Punt Straight Down the Middle?

Advanced stats are all the rage on the internet these days, but one area that’s mostly been ignored by the statheads is punting. Until now that is.

At long last, punters are being placed under the analytical microscope the same as quarterbacks and wide receivers and everyone else. Pro Football Focus has launched an effort to compile and put together a body of stats that measure the art of punting with greater accuracy and insight than ever before.

Chris Kluwe actually was a big part of PFF starting this effort. The former Viking troublemaker did a piece on PFF several weeks ago about punting and suggested certain statistical approaches that PFF is now running with in a big way.

On Friday PFF published the first of two “Punters in Perspective” pieces. In Part 1, they examine what they call “open-field punting,” punts with the line of scrimmage at your own 1 to your own 40, where the main object is to kick it as far as possible and get out of trouble.

Of the three areas PFF examines, one is particularly intriguing to Viking fans, because it touches directly upon our own punter Jeff Locke aka The Man Rick Spielman Drafted to Replace Chris Kluwe and All His Distractions.

PFF looks at directional kicking as part of their analysis. Right away you think to yourself, “This is going to be bad news for Jeff Locke because all he ever does is kick it right down the middle.”

But is that even true? Does Jeff Locke mostly kick it down the middle or does it just seem that way?

As it turns out…yes, Jeff Locke does mostly kick it straight down the middle. In fact, Jeff Locke kicks it straight down the middle a greater percentage of the time than any other punter in the NFL, at least on “open-field” punts.

Here is the chart via PFF:

punts

In 50 open field punts, Locke managed to land the ball outside the numbers just 10% of the time. The next-worst percentage in the league belonged to Jon Ryan, who got the ball outside the numbers 21.7% of the time. That wide a disparity is eye-opening.

The defense for Locke here is that, in the open-field scenarios we’re dealing with, distance and hang time matter more than direction. That may be true in some cases, but even factoring that in, most punters are still better than Locke at helping out their coverage by steering their kicks left or right.

In fact, most punters are considerably better than Locke in this important area of punting. The Vikings still managed to have a fairly effective punt coverage unit in 2013, scoring a middle-of-the-road 0.6 on punts in Football Outsiders’ special teams rankings (they should be more worried about their kick coverage which scored a brutal -15.4).

So this season when you’re watching Jeff Locke punt and it seems to you that he’s mostly kicking it down the middle? It’s not just you. He’s mostly kicking it down the middle. And Rick Spielman liked this guy enough to use a draft pick on him.

Was that a terrible pick? Time will answer that question. Maybe this year Locke will learn how to aim his punts.

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