This image makes you nervous, doesn't it? - Thomas B. Shea
Every time Shayne Graham lines up to kick a field goal of more than 40 yards, my heart stops. I am clinically dead for several seconds. That can't be good for me or the Texans.
When your team is 10-1, complaining may seem a bit petty. I acknowledge that. Nevertheless, a 10-1 record does not necessarily mean that there's nothing to worry about when it comes to your 2012 Houston Texans. The pass rush, especially off the edge, is all too frequently missing in action. The situation at inside linebacker gives one pause. A year after being the best nickel corner in the league, Brice McCain seems to have returned to his 2010 form. I come not to discuss those issues, though each of them is surely worthy of a separate post. No, I come before you to discuss Shayne Graham.
Before I start, allow me to say that I firmly believe the Texans never expected things to play out this way. When the Texans chose to let Neil Rackers walk after last season, they opted to bring his successor in through the draft, selecting Randy Bullock in the fifth round. Wisely deciding that handing a NFL kicking job to a rookie was an idea fraught with peril, the Texans signed Shayne Graham shortly after the draft to compete with Bullock. I won't speak for anyone else, but I'll say that I thought Graham's chances of actually making the team were about 1%; that estimate had a margin of error of about 1%. Teams don't draft kickers in the fifth round just to cut them a few months later.
So Graham and Bullock competed at training camp in a competition I thought was over before it started. Yet by most, if not all, accounts, Graham consistently looked better than Bullock in practice. There was no way the Texans were going to jettison Bullock; the Texans were in a bit of a pickle. Bullock was their guy, but Graham had just been better. Whether it was simple chance or something more manipulative, the Texans officially placed Randy Bullock on injured reserve in late August, and the kicking job was Shayne Graham's.
As we sit here in Week 13 of the regular season, Shayne Graham has connected on 80% (20-25) of his field goal attempts. It bears mention that up to this season, he's never missed more than five FGs in a single season. He also hasn't kicked a full 16 game season since 2009 and only kicked in three games, for two teams, in 2011. Three of the five misses Graham has had as a Texan in 2012 have occurred in the last two weeks during the nail-biting wins over Jacksonville and Detroit. Notably, five of Graham's misses have occurred indoors, with four of the five occurring at Reliant Stadium. The five FGs he's missed this season have been from 46 (this one was blocked), 47, 50, 51, and 52 yards. Put another way, Graham is 6-8 (75%) on field goals attempted from 40-49 yards and 1-4 (25%) on FGAs from 50+ yards thus far in 2012.
Over the course of his twelve year/eight team career, Shayne Graham has made 85.4% of the field goals he's attempted. Specifically, he's 5-5 on FGAs from 0-19 yards, 69-72 (95.8%) on FGAs from 20-29 yards, 70-76 (92.1%) on FGAs from 30-39 yards, 59-75 (78.7%) on FGAs from 40-49 yards, and 8-18 (44.4%) on FGAs from 50+ yards.
As I imagine you'd expect from any kicker, there's a marked drop in Graham's accuracy once the distance jumps to 40+ yards. It's also an understatement to say that he's about as far from a sure thing as you can get once the distance jumps to 50 yards or more. Statistically, asking Shayne Graham to make a field goal from 50+ yards has a worse shot of succeeding than correctly calling heads or tails when you flip a coin.
These stats are of little use without context. How do other available kickers fare? Let's take a look at the career numbers of the three kickers the Texans recently brought in for a look. Billy Cundiff...markedly worse than Shayne Graham in every way once you get to 30 yards or more. Olindo Mare...not a clear upgrade at all. John Potter...has not kicked in a regular season game, which makes sense, seeing as how he was drafted in the seventh round back in April.
Sobering, ain't it? As frightening as the prospect of Shayne Graham kicking a 45 yard field goal in the playoffs is, who is a superior option? I don't think there is one (though I'd love for someone to throw a name or two out in the Comments). With the harsh truth that Shayne Graham is likely as good as it gets for your 2012 Houston Texans, we have to also accept the fact that asking him to kick from 50 yards or greater is a fool's errand, and you're playing with fire the further you get from a 40 yard attempt.
While I don't have any confidence that Graham will hit a 45 yard field goal to win a playoff game, all I can do is hope that Gary Kubiak realizes he shouldn't have any confidence it'll happen either. Different game situations call for different strategies, but I believe the general rule should be that going for it on fourth down or punting the ball away is preferable to asking Shayne Graham to boot a field goal from much more than 40 yards away. A man's got to know his limitations. Gary Kubiak needs to know Shayne Graham's.