Texans Kicking Woes: What to Do About Poor Randy Bullock
When Randy Bullock missed his third kick Sunday -- the fourth in the first two games of his Texans' career -- my initial, emotion-fueled instinct was simple.
Photo by Marco Torres How much does Gary Kubiak believe in Randy Bullock?
The Texans (2-0), while not perfect, are legitimate Super Bowl contenders and probably No. 2 in the AFC pecking order behind only Denver. Though wins over the Chargers and Titans proved more difficult than envisioned, the performances of those two teams in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, respectively, shows they're very competent opponents. This year's Texans have too much going for them to squander games with an unproven rookie kicker, like they almost did Sunday.
But stepping away from the emotion of the moment, the thorny issue of actually resolving that problem becomes apparent:
Who would the Texans replace Bullock with?
Forget any young alternatives. Houston wouldn't ditch Bullock for another untested rookie. If they go another route, it would be for a proven veteran -- and the most appropriate unemployed comparison could be Shayne Graham, the 2012 Texans kicker.
Adam Wexler offered good insight into a hypothetical Bullock vs. Graham evaluation:
Last yr, Graham made just 1 of 1st 5 kicks of 46yds or longer. Bullock: 0-4 on same so far. Graham: 5-12 from 46+ overall last yr. #Texans— Adam Wexler (@awexler) September 16, 2013
Graham was 26-26 on FGs <46 last yr. Bullock is 1-1. Team hasn't missed FG < 46 yds since '11 season w/ Rackers. #Texans— Adam Wexler (@awexler) September 16, 2013
While Graham had his issues, he was never a disaster because he made the kicks he was supposed to make (inside 45 yards). The sample size is extremely limited for Bullock, but thus far, he's 1-for-1 -- with that kick being a pressure-packed game winner in San Diego.
Also, Graham shook off a slow start on 46+ yard kicks, making four of his last seven in the regular season and converting a huge 55-yard bomb in the playoff game at New England.
As a result, there is precedent in Houston for turning around a slow start, which offers hope for Bullock. There's also the issue of kickoffs, on which Bullock looks like a clear upgrade on Graham, Neil Rackers and any other Texan kicker ever. Want evidence?
Bullock also has 8 TB on 9 KOs (4-4 today). After 9 games last year, Graham still only had 11 TBs (on 52 KOs). #Texans— Adam Wexler (@awexler) September 16, 2013
In addition, despite the popular belief that a contender shouldn't trust a young kicker, recent evidence shows that it can very much pay off. Just look to Houston's Week 3 opponent, the Baltimore Ravens. The 2011 Ravens failed to reach the Super Bowl when veteran Billy Cundiff shanked a chip-shot field goal in Foxboro that would've sent the AFC Championship to overtime. The 2012 Ravens won the Super Bowl amid a series of huge kicks from rookie (and ex-Longhorn) Justin Tucker, including a 47-yard kick in frigid weather to take down the Broncos in Denver during the playoffs.
So can Bullock turn things around? Absolutely. But will he? That's more concerning, especially given anecdotal offseason results. Steph Stradley, a fixture at most club practices and events around Reliant Park, said this in her June review of Texans OTAs:
The last two days of OTAs, during the situational football focus that was the last week of camp, Bullock did kicks in front of team and assembled media. Between 40-49 is supposed to be nearly automatic for a modern NFL kicker. Bullock was not automatic.
Yes, it is early. But it is never too early to be concerned that your inexperienced kicker isn't making kicks he is supposed to make for a team that has realistically high expectations.
It's certainly not too early for concerns now.