Is David Akers a Serious Risk to 49ers' Super Bowl Hopes?
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After witnessing the 14-year veteran kicker shank yet another field goal attempt, this one a 38-yarder in the final minutes of the NFC Championship Game, we're talking about a question that isn't going away until a champion has been crowned.
But, as the Niners prepare to square off against the Baltimore Ravens in New Orleans Feb. 3, should we be viewing Akers' kicking woes as a legitimate concern?
I'd have to say it would be foolish if we didn't. The six-time All-Pro has failed to put three points on the board on three of his last six attempts. He's converted on just 64 percent of his tries dating back to Week 4 of the regular season.
Is it simply a confidence issue? Perhaps the pelvic injury Akers has dealt with throughout the season is messing with his mechanics. Akers underwent double sports-hernia surgery in February 2012 and suffered complications from the surgery after falling in practice midway through the season.
Maybe the 49ers Faithful should find comfort in Jim Harbaugh's decision to stick with Akers for the biggest game of his young coaching career. After all, he's already got quite the track record when it comes to decision making.
Harbaugh's opting to allow Akers to remain the man in San Fran may simply be a result of having no better options, though. The Niners did bring in free agent kicker Billy Cundiff in the weeks leading up to the divisional round only to release him prior to the NFC title game.
Had Cundiff won the job, it's not as if fans would have been any more comfortable with the 49ers kicking situation. He hasn't kicked in a game since Week 5 of the regular season and had missed four of his final six attempts before being released by the Washington Redskins.
Either way, Akers will be the man come Super Bowl Sunday.
Excluding Harbaugh's lasting faith in the 38-year-old, there are still a couple of positives to look at. According to Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle, seven of Akers' last eight misses (that weren't blocked) have either been wide left or hit the left upright.
Longtime special teams' coach and kicking consultant Gary Zauner told Branch he believes Akers' problem could be more related to his head than his leg.
Pushing it left could be because he's getting a little tentative. That's what happens with guys that usually push the ball. They're so worried about missing that they don't kick it like they do in practice because the brain gets involved in the kick. Generally speaking, most kickers that have missed big kicks a lot of times just block them out and don't finish the kick.
It's not like he's been off by much, either. Sunday's miss bounced off the very top of the left upright and several others had missed by the narrowest of margins.
Even so, it's well-known that football is a game of inches. Victory has been determined by less than a foot many times in the NFL, even in the Super Bowl.
Another comforting sign is that the 49ers haven't had to rely on Akers' leg much at all in the postseason to this point. Colin Kaepernick and the offense have been able to pile up 952 yards and 73 points in the team's two playoff wins. Akers attempted only two field goals during that span.
The offense has been so effective, All-Pro punter Andy Lee punted just three times in each win.
Do you view David Akers as a serious risk to the 49ers' Super Bowl hopes?
The fact that this team is winning consistently without needing much assistance from special teams is a promising sign. Nonetheless, it is nice to know that when you need a big field goal during a decisive moment on the game's biggest stage, your kicker has better than a 68 percent chance of delivering three points.
If you're anything like me, there's a good portion of you that doesn't want to trust Akers at all. On the other hand, though, you know that he's been doing this for the majority of his life and has already been the creator of many magical moments while donning the Red and Gold.
There is hope that Akers can get it turned around leading up to the biggest game of his life. And if the 49ers can play up to their potential for 60 minutes, it likely won't even matter how he performs.
For now, it'd be best to hope his services won't be necessary with Super Bowl XLVII hanging in the balance. But keep in mind that, even during a kicking year that has seen so many misses, it only takes one make to become a hero.
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