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Red-hot, ice cold kickers could decide Super Bowl

NEW ORLEANS, Jan 31, (RTRS): With four of the last five Super Bowls decided by less than a touchdown, Sunday’s title clash could come down to a kicking contest between Baltimore’s red-hot Justin Tucker and San Francisco’s ice cold David Akers. “I think special teams can have an impact on every NFL game because games are so close,” Baltimore Ravens special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg told Reuters on Wednesday.
“We think it’s going to be a great match-up and the special teams will be a big part of the game.”
Both teams have excelled on kick returns and coverage, but the two special team players most likely to put points on the scoreboard, or cost their team points, are the kickers.


Tucker, 23, comes into the game off an outstanding rookie campaign having connected on 30-of-33 field goal attempts in the regular season and both of his tries in the postseason.
Akers, 38, has missed the most field goals of any NFL kicker this season, hitting on just 29-of-42 opportunities during the regular season and 1-of-2 in the playoffs.
The strong left-footed Akers, who a year ago earned his sixth Pro Bowl selection after converting 44-of-52 attempts, was at a loss to explain his struggles.
“An inch is a mile in this game,” Akers told reporters about his frustrating season. “We’re not missing by much. We’re doing great in practice, doing great in pre-game.
“It’s just one of those things that if I had the answer I would have fixed it a long time ago.”
Confidence in Akers sank so low that the 49ers tried out other kickers during the postseason and considered a change.
“It’s not like I forgot how to kick, it’s just that we’ve had issues that have come up,” said Akers. “Whether I’ve misjudged wind ... the holding (for the kick), the snap situation.”


For Tucker, it has been just the opposite.
Undrafted after his kicking career at the University of Texas, the Ravens signed him and changed his technique during training camp and installed him as their kicker.
“I made a 180-degree transformation from the kicker I was in college technically to the point where I have so much more control over my ball now,” he said. “I feel like ... it’s hard for me to miss.”
Akers knows that he can bury the memory of his worst NFL season with one kick at the Superdome on Sunday, but understands the pressures.
“It comes down to whether you can make or miss. There’s no gray area,” he said.
Riding his kicking high, Tucker said he has imagined hitting a game-winning kick in the Super Bowl.
“I definitely have,” he said. “These are the moments that you dream about and you think about as a little kid.


“Just thinking about it now, you almost get goose bumps thinking about it.”
The San Francisco 49ers’ success with athletic quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the read-option attack could lead other NFL teams to rethink their approach to the key position, according to the man who masterminded the scheme.
Niners offensive coordinator Greg Roman has implemented an offensive gameplan that has confused defenses who do not know whether the quarterback is going to run, hand off or pass.
Roman suggests the success of Kaepernick, who set a record for the most rushing yards by a quarterback in any game with 181 yards in playoff win over Green Bay three weeks ago, could open up opportunities to other fast and mobile quarterbacks.
“They are going to see who they have and it might tempt them to acquire an athletic quarterback that they like - it might encourage them to draft one or sign one and incorporate this into their offense,” he said on Wednesday.


“People will be less apt to cross a guy off their docket in draft preparations. They will have discussions about whether they want to incorporate this into their system. Ultimately it will be exciting to see.”
The man who has to work out a way to foil Roman’s plans in Sunday’s Super Bowl, Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, certainly does not believe the approach is a fad.
“It will have staying power in the league, the pistol read option. The beauty of it is, and part of the genius of it is, it’s such a simple idea,” said Harbaugh.
“It’s just a very versatile type offense and it forces you to defend a lot of different elements of the offensive attack.”


There have been other variations of the read-option run in the professional game this season.
Rookies quarterbacks Robert Griffin III of the Washington redskins and Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks both made it to the postseason with plenty of rushing plays, as did former Denver Broncos signal caller Tim Tebow a year earlier.
The version used by the 49ers has involved a number of different disguises and plays that can be particularly effective when combined with a quarterback like Kaepernick, who has the ability to read a defense quickly and then make the yardage.
“Greg Roman has done a job that is revolutionary in football,” said Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh.
“The way he’s mixed the trap, the power, the wham plays into the pistol offense and into the conventional offense has been revolutionary in many ways.”


The approach is set to spread further next year with new Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly expected to run a version of the ‘read option’ that he enjoyed success with at the University of Oregon.
But the performances of classical passing quarterbacks such as the Ravens’ Joe Flacco, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, Denver’s Peyton Manning and New England’s Tom Brady, are a reminder that the traditional approach is still the mainstream.
Joe Theismann, a Super Bowl winning quarterback with the Washington Redskins in the 1982 season, does not see the read-option spreading beyond a few teams with athletic quarterbacks.
“It is going to be limited, based upon the abilities of the quarterback. I don’t see it becoming widespread at all,” he told Reuters.


Theismann believes defensive coordinators will eventually work out how to deal with the threat - just as they have with other innovations in the past.
“We saw Run and Shoot come and go. We saw the 46 defense come and go and we saw the West Coast offense, in its purest form, come and go and we saw the two tight end offense, come and go,” he added.
Whether the read-option does spread to more teams or not, it is going to be fascinating to see how defensive coordinators try to nullify its impact.
“You give the (defensive coordinators) time to study something and they are going to figure out a way to make it hard,” said Theismann.
Whoever triumphs in the end, 49ers quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst believes it is going to be fascinating to watch.
“We’re just at the entry point of this,” said Chryst. “I don’t know where this is going to take us.”

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