If you were to ask someone to name the Oakland Raiders’ best player over the last decade, they would be hard pressed to name anyone other than Sebastian Janikowski. Throughout the Raiders’ epic streak of bad football, the only thing that could be counted on was the kicking game.
The Raiders drafted both Janikowski and punter Shane Lechler in 2000. Through the 2012 season, they formed one of the best kicking tandems in the league. Both had incredibly strong legs and turned an often forgotten portion of the game into a weapon for the Raiders.
When Lechler departed this offseason, many were concerned with the future of the Raiders punting game. They had two solid options in Marquette King and Chris Kluwe, but both had their uncertainties. As it has turned out, King has improved nearly as much this offseason as Terrelle Pryor and is having a very good year.
All but for one small part, that is.
The thing no one considered or was concerned about until the preseason was how the departure of Lechler might affect Janikowski. King had never held for a placekicker before entering the NFL, and consistently struggled to get the hold right for Janikowski early in the season.
That, however, may no longer be the problem. After the game on Sunday, the Raiders postgame commentators on 95.7 The Game noted that by all appearances, the hold on Janikowski’s 51-yard missed field goal looked to be perfect. Jano simply didn’t kick it long enough.
It appears that missed kicks early in the season may have gotten in Janikowski’s head a little bit. He has missed four of his 11 field goal attempts this season (63.6%, which would be a career low) and every miss has come from the left hash mark. Even when watching his kicks, you can tell Janikowski is thinking too much. He does not trust his holder and you can see hesitation in his stride.
Janikowski spent 13 years kicking with Lechler, who was also his closest friend during that time. When Lechler left, it clearly had a bigger impact on Janikowski than anyone previously imagined. King’s holds may not be perfect, but it is beginning to look as though he is not the only problem with the Raiders field goal unit. The changes have gotten in the head of a guy who used to be one of the NFL’s most consistent kickers.
Janikowski is a 14-year veteran of the NFL and it is time for him to rise above whatever may be holding him back. The Raiders cannot afford to continually give away points and expect to win. King has improved his holding technique, now Janikowski simply needs to kick the ball better.