By Jerrell Richardson
The decision as to which kicker to go with is more difficult than the quarterback situation Jim Harbaugh faced early in the season, although this one is getting far less attention. What makes this decision so much harder is that not only the fact that the team heading into a win or go home game, but also that this particular issue has more to do with each player’s ability to handle pressure than anything else.
Both David Akers and Billy Cundiff are professional field goal kickers, and more than talented to make any kick asked of them, but the question is: Can they do it when it counts? It comes with the territory, but Harbaugh will be questioned no matter what decision he makes, and he had better hope that a missed field goal does not cost them a trip to the NFC Championship Game this weekend. As he has not named the kicker for Saturday, it indicates that neither David Akers, nor Billy Cundiff have made the decision easy by blowing their competition out of the water. So with his decision being based on nothing more than a gut feeling, Harbaugh should go with Billy Cundiff.
Go With the Confident Kicker
Cundiff is the better choice, because kicking is all about confidence, and Akers has none at this point in the season. Akers did bounce back last week after missing two first half, but this was after missing 2 earlier in the game, and no matter what he says, when he trots on the field to line up a field goal from anywhere outside of 35 yards, Akers is holding his breath just as much as the fans watching. Akers has watched San Francisco bring in two kickers, signed Cundiff, and since then Akers has done nothing to regain the trust of the coaches. He knows that this is the most important game of the season, and the team being unsure about him can only further damage his cracked ego. The reality is that Akers has performed so poorly in games that there is nothing he can do in practice for the team to completely trust him, and no trust from the team equals no confidence from the kicker.
Despite bouncing around the NFL waivers, Cundiff has to be in the better shape mentally than Akers. By not playing he has not had the chance to miss kicks, which is the only way to shake his confidence. In fact if he can put together a good week of practice, there is nothing that would make him doubt himself which is half the battle. The difference between Cundiff and Akers is not much talent wise. The big difference is that going into this game, Cundiff will expect to make his kicks, while Akers will be unsure about it and for that reason alone, the decision must be made to go with the confident Cundiff.
What’s A Coach To Do?
Regardless of which player is relied upon, if he fails, Coach Harbaugh will be under heavy criticism, but this is a unique situation that is impossible to be 100% sure from the coaches perspective whom to hand over the kicking duties to. If he sticks with the veteran and Akers continues to miss, Harbaugh will be criticized for bringing in Cundiff, signing him, activating him and sitting him on the bench to watch Akers miss. If Cundiff comes in and he blows an important kick, then Harbaugh will be criticized for losing confidence in his veteran and will be questioned for bringing in a kicker who just last year missed a chip shot field goal that cost his team a playoff game. The only way for this to work out for Harbaugh is for the offense to make the kicking game irrelevant by scoring touchdowns. Or, if the kicker given the starting nod does his job, making enough field goals to help this team on its road to New Orleans.
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. His work can be found on Examiner.com.