Phil Dawson might be the most important addition of the 49ers’ offseason. Well, the most important behind Anquan Boldin, Glenn Dorsey, Eric Reid, Vance McDonald, Nnamdi Asomugha, Craig Dahl, Colt McCoy, Adam Snyder, Marcus Lattimore, Brandon Carswell, and Lawrence Okoye.
I’m kidding, obviously. The importance of the position inhabited by Dawson is immediate and evident. Six of the ten losses/ties endured under the Harbaugh regime have come by three points or less (It’s really five because the Super Bowl score is skewed by that safety the Ravens took to end the game, but, hey, numbers don’t lie). In three of those games, then-kicker David Akers missed field goals of 50, 51, and 41 that would have either tied or won the game.
Certainly, making a 50+ yard field goal is easier said than done. And to point out these failings isn’t necessarily to assign blame to Akers. But his struggles last year were well documented, and only the 41-yard miss came at Candlestick (the winds were only 5 mph this day). The other two were under the roofs of University of Phoenix Stadium and Edward Jones Dome. Which is to say, the conditions were ripe for success, yet success was not had.
In the Super Bowl, too, Akers missed a 39-yard field goal, which should have been a gimme if the dome conditions are taken into consideration. Now, fortunately, Akers flopped his way into a second attempt, five yards closer, but had he not done that, then the whole complexion of the game would have changed drastically.
This is where Phil Dawson comes in. Last season, Dawson was 29-of-31 on field goal attempts, including a perfect 13-of-13 on attempts of 40 yards or more. Dawson, like Akers, was forced to kick in some pretty unsavory conditions. After all, Cleveland Browns Stadium is the second worst in terms of weather conditions, trailing Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson Stadium, according to the Weather Channel, anyways.
For his career, Dawson is 152-for-179 at Cleveland Browns Stadium (84.9%). However, over the past four seasons, Dawson has made over 90% of his attempts there. But Dawson isn’t just faring well within the confines of his home stadium. No, over the past four seasons, he’s been making field goals at incredible rates, even in the NFL’s worst weather cities — which, according to the Weather Channel, are Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Green Bay and Kansas City, in addition to Cleveland.
In the chart below, I’ve included Dawson’s field goal percentage while playing in all of those stadiums. I’ve also included San Francisco even though it was not ranked among the five worst.
It’s clear that Dawson is kicking on all cylinders. No matter the conditions, Dawson will undoubtedly acquit himself well and hopefully win some close games for the 49ers. That said, to gain field goals, the 49ers might have sacrificed field position.
Though a deft field goal kicker, Dawson is anything but when handling kick off duties. In fact, David Akers outshines Dawson in just about every statistical measure, including average distance (Avg. Dist.), percentage of returns (% Ret.), and touchbacks (TB). Dawson holds a slight edge in hang time (Max. HT).
Over the past two seasons, Dawson has only induced 4o touchbacks, which is significant given the rule change instituted in 2011. Over the same span, Akers induced 103.
This vast drop off in effectiveness could explain the 49ers emphasis on special teams this offseason. That is, the signings of Dan Skuta, Kasim Osgood, and Ray Ventrone, as well as the drafting of Nick Moody, might suggest the 49ers are bracing for fewer touchbacks.
It’s not the ugliest thing in the world, but it isn’t exactly pretty.