Reason #1: Stacking up against the competition
Fairbairn’s field goal percentage, 2019 NFL Rank: # 26
Fairbairn’s 75-percent field goal percentage so far in 2019 ties him for 26th place in the NFL, a sharp decline from his 88-percent field goal percentage last season. However, upon closer examination, it appears the third-year kicker out of UCLA is not necessarily inaccurate, in general, but rather struggles with the long ball. As evidence of this, 2019 shows the 25-year old kicker as a perfect 9 for 9 on field-goal attempts at or within 39 yards. However, at forty yards or more, Fairbairn currently averages a rocky success rate of slightly greater than 54 percent.
Fairbairn’s longest field goal, 2019 NFL Rank: # 18
When it comes to attempting long field goals, though, the O’Brien administration might not value procuring the strongest-legged kickers. As evidence of this, in Bill O’Brien’s five-year tenure as head coach of the Texans, no Texans’ kicker has made a field goal greater than 55 yards—a feat surpassed by four other teams just this regular season.
Not acquiring—by trade or draft—the kickers with the strongest legs might be a limitation of the Texans’ coaching philosophy. In other words, some franchises do not value acquiring strong-legged kickers because some coaching staffs cringe at the thought of yielding an extra few yards of field position if a kicker misses a 55-plus yard attempt.
Fairbairn, for example, successfully notched a 52-yarder as his 2019 long field goal, a distance ranking him a pedestrian 18th in the league, while his career-long of 55 yards came two seasons ago in his rookie campaign. Nonetheless, other coaches can predict that O’Brien’s Texans lack the necessary depth in tight situations near midfield to hit critical, long field goals past 55 yards, and simply adjust their defensive game plans against Houston accordingly.
After all, five seasons of evidence indicate that if the Texans‘ head coach sets up a kicker to attempt anything near a 60-yarder, a trick play is coming, or the kick, itself, will fail to make it between the uprights. In this way, O’Brien’s midfield offense, lacking a true long field goal threat on fourth-and-long, is as predictable as a sunrise.
To put this limitation affecting the Texans into perspective, Sebastian Janikowski hit at least one field goal of more than 55 yards in nine separate regular seasons to help his team put points on the board in tight spots—9 more seasons than any of O’Brien’s kicking choices for roster spots have ever nailed a field goal of that range during any Texans’ game that O’Brien has ever coached. And while the forty-one-year-old Janikowski announced his retirement last season, could the Texans have at least sent the likely Hall-of-Famer a preseason invite with a blank check?
60-yard field goal makers might be hard to come by, but they can be found. Case in point, while the Texans stuck with Fairbairn in 2018, the Cowboys’ front office had the foresight to welcome free agent kicker, Brett Maher, from the Canadian Football League. Over the last two seasons in Dallas, Maher boasts three 60-plus yard field goals for the Cowboys and features a 100-percent conversion rate on extra-point attempts so far in 2019.
Not to mention, as someone who loves the sport of rugby union, I can attest to the existence of diamonds in the rough when it comes to international rugby players with exceptionally strong legs. Very few NFL coaches and scouts know about them. Bill Belichick is perhaps by default assumed to be successful because of Tom Brady—however, to his credit, he is, in part, successful because he is one of the few NFL head coaches who has devoted scouting resources to paying attention to the best rugby players in the world.
The New England Patriots’ head coach tried to sign one of the best international rugby kickers as recently as 2015 in New Zealand’s Dan Carter—a kicker who has made three-point penalty kicks from approximately 68 yards out. And, from personal, firsthand experience as a former college club rugby player, I can attest to the fact that rugby balls and footballs travel nearly the same distance when placekicked—a detail that makes rugby union all the more beautiful of a sport for football fans to discover. But, that might be good to mention in more detail in another article—back to Fairbairn.