News: Archer: The field goal: It's all good, or else

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    LaTunaNostra He Made the Difference

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    The field goal: It's all good, or else
    It looks automatic, but a mistake in any facet can doom a field goal attempt

    09:28 PM CDT on Tuesday, September 14, 2004

    By TODD ARCHER / The Dallas Morning N

    IRVING – It looks so easy.

    Jeff Robinson snaps the ball. Mat McBriar places it on the ground. Billy Cundiff kicks it. Simple.

    Well, it wasn't so simple Sunday at Minnesota. McBriar let a snap go through his hands in the second quarter, and the Cowboys lost the lead for good three plays later. Backup quarterback Tony Romo handled the holder's job the rest of the way and will continue to do so.

    McBriar's mistake shows that a lot can go wrong between the snap and the kick.

    "The ideal is for it to be 1.27 seconds," Cowboys special teams coach Bruce DeHaven said. "I figure if we're in the range of 1.27 and 1.32, we're OK. Anything over 1.32 and I think you're getting into a little too much time. ...

    "The longer it takes, even with penetration up the middle, you get more of a chance for a block."

    What happens in that 1.27 seconds?

    Here's a look:

    The snapper

    Robinson has been in the NFL for 12 years and has been a snapper since 1995. He is considered one of the best deep snappers in the game.

    He was perfect on 155 snaps last year and was missed in 2002 when he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament. How valuable is Robinson? During a pass drill in training camp, rookie Tom Crowder grazed Robinson and was scolded by the coaches.

    Like most snappers, Robinson can time it out for the laces to be perfectly lined up so the holder does not have to spin the ball. It makes for a much quicker operation.

    "Sometimes you can actually snap the ball too hard," DeHaven said. "You want to snap it back quickly, but you also want it to be manageable for your holder."

    The holder

    Catching the ball and possibly having to spin it so the laces are away from the kicker is a difficult task. Mat McBriar caught hundreds of snaps from kicking coach Steve Hoffman since training camp began. It still didn't guarantee success.

    After the holder catches the snap and turns the laces, it's not just a matter of putting the ball on the ground.

    "The kickers want to see more of the ball," Hoffman said. "When we were little kids out there kicking, we probably had it on a two-inch tee so you had a little room to get your foot under the ball. In the NFL, you're kicking off the ground. If you lean the ball back, you're hiding the sweet spot and you end up with a knuckleball."

    Because of the angle of Cundiff's foot, the ball is actually tilted forward slightly and toward the holder, creating a larger area of the ball to hit.

    The kicker

    Before the snap, Billy Cundiff will take four steps and slide his right foot along the ground to line up.

    When he sees Romo call for the ball with his right hand, Cundiff takes his first step. Countless repetitions with Robinson let him know when the ball will be snapped, so it is more about feel than exact timing.

    Normally, Cundiff wears a size 12 ½ or 13 shoe, but his right cleat is an 11. The tighter the shoe, the more spring off the foot for the ball. Also, he has shaved down the spikes on the inside so the shoe cannot get caught in the turf. For added traction, he has replaced the top spike with a soft spike made for golf shoes.

    "Once I get back, then I just see the ball hitting the net," Cundiff said. "That's what you want to do. You want to shut your brain off so you don't think about anything."

    The interior line

    It is not as easy as holding down the fort. There is a technique involved for the blockers.

    "On offense, it's almost always man blocking with some zone or area blocking," DeHaven said. "We're totally area blocking. Everybody is responsible for their inside gap. The guards, the tackles, the ends are responsible for their inside gaps. Whatever happens on the outside, maybe you can give a little help if there's nobody on the inside, but you're responsible for your inside gap."

    The Cowboys flip-flop the left and right sides of the line for field goals. Left guard Larry Allen and left tackle Flozell Adams move to the right side, and Andre Gurode and Torrin Tucker move to the left. That way, they can remain in the same stance they use on offense.

    "The technique now in field goal block is to load up two or three guys over one guy and take a couple of more and push from behind," DeHaven said. "No matter how big you are, you can't hold up. You end up with a half a ton of humanity or whatever it is."

    As a result, the guards have to set lower, giving them a lower center of gravity that helps them hold up a tad better.

    The exterior line

    The ends, Tyson Walter and Matt Lehr, have a little hinge technique in their blocks. While they are still responsible for their inside gap, they can help the wings – tight ends Dan Campbell and Jason Witten.

    Campbell and Witten have a difficult task. They have to punch their inside gap first to slow down penetration, then reach back to the outside for a smaller, faster player buzzing off the corner.

    The result

    If everything goes smoothly, the kick should be good, although the elements – cold, rain, snow and wind – can play a large factor, as can the stadium's playing surface.

    "Almost always, blocks are a result of breakdowns on the offensive side of the ball," DeHaven said. "Either somebody isn't using good technique or it's a low kick from the kicker."

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