They say that in life, timing is everything. Truer words may have never been spoken when it comes to the career of Matt Stover. For over a decade now, the running joke surrounding this franchise has been that Matt Stover has been the offense for all intents and purposes. Stover has certainly done enough to have permanently etched his mark into Ravens’ history, and rightfully earned his way into the Ravens Ring of Honor, and possibly even to Canton one day. The question that I have though is a simple one; was Matt Stover destined to have a great career as a kicker, or was he simply in the right place at the right time?
To say that Stover, the longest tenured and only original Raven remaining, has been the only consistent threat to put points on the board for this club during his time here could be the understatement of the century. Remember that the 2000 Superbowl team which famously went 5 games without a TD, managed to win 2 of those games on the back of 9 Stover field goals. But to say that Stover is one of the best kickers of his time may be just as much of an overstatement.
For years, Ravens fans have been complaining about Stover’s inability to get kickoffs into, or even near the end zone in some cases. For a number of seasons, the Ravens have made a practice of keeping a kickoff specialist on the roster, first with Wade Richey, and then with Rhys Lloyd. Roster needs, though, usually preclude the ability to afford such luxuries on game day, so the chances that those players had to dress were few and far between.
Today, Stover seemed to do a decent job of getting kickoffs deep, although the third one to Cribbs today seemed to be too much of a line drive that got too far in front of his coverage. Blaming that return on Stover is pointless though, that was on the whole team, Cribbs himself deserves some credit too, he’s a phenomenal talent for sure.
What I can blame on Stover though, or more specifically Stover’s limitations are the 51 and 53-yard field goal attempts that the Ravens passed on in the second quarter. At that point, control of the game was still up for grabs. Although it seems of little consequence now, passing on those two attempts early in the game could have been costly.
In a manner of speaking, it’s fair to say that passing on those tries should have been costly. It’s an embarrassment that the Ravens have to hold their breath when lining up a filed goal of 40 or more yards. The Ravens still have a defense to be reckoned with, the field position that you’d risk by trying those attempts should have been inconsequential. Considering that it took Cleveland exactly 1 play to get back the yardage gained from the second punt, the resultant field position was totally inconsequential.
Given John Harbaugh’s special teams background, it has to make him sick to routinely have to pass on long field goal attempts. Stover, this year, is just 1 for 4 from 40 or more yards, and hasn’t even attempted a 50-yarder, and likely won’t outside of the waning seconds of a half, that crazy time when teams have been known to try from 55 yards and beyond. At this point, it’s a safe bet that Harbaugh isn’t even considering Stover outside of 45 yards.
How is it that a college system with approximately 180 schools at the 1A level, and hundreds more football programs at lower college levels can’t keep the NFL stocked with 32 lights out kickers? A System that routinely produces blue chip athletes every single year at every single position, can’t stock 32 teams with a position where players last 20 years or more, in a country where soccer players don’t make any money. How is that possible?
Anyway, back to Stover. Clearly his best days are behind him, and if the Ravens want to consider themselves the contenders that they look to be in the standings, they may need to find a replacement sooner, rather than later. Al Del Greco was at one time a lights out kicker, who quickly turned into the Achilles heel of an otherwise all around dominant team. The Ravens can’t hope to contend for a playoff berth, or anything beyond that with a kicker who is no good outside of the 23-yard line.
I like Stover as much as the next guy, and more importantly, I appreciate and respect the class, dedication and consistency that he brought to both this team and this city, but if the truth be told, I’m not sure that Stover is much more than an above average kicker anyway. To Stover’s credit, his long this season is 47 yards, but he’s missed all three of his other attempts from 40-49 and hasn’t tried a 50-yarder this year, as mentioned.
For his career, Stover benefited as much from being on the Ravens, and in the middle of their offensive struggles, as the Ravens benefited from his reliable foot. For his career, Stover is a respectable 84%. That’s enough to keep you around for 18 seasons, but doesn’t scream for a bust in Canton by any means. In Stover’s case, it’s been quantity over quality, he’s just 70% from 40-49 yards in his career, and just 43% (13/30) from 50 yards plus. He has just 2 field goals of 50 yards or more in the past 3-½ seasons, and routinely leaves kickoffs drastically short of the end zone.
Maybe Stover’s karma is catching up with him over that nasty letter he wrote about Gene Upshaw this past off-season. More likely, he just doesn’t have the same leg that kept him in the league for all this time. Stover’s legacy in Baltimore has been cemented no doubt, mostly because of the percentage of offensive output that his kicks have represented over his time here. From here out, it seems, that all he can do is tarnish that legacy.
I will gladly await the day that Stover takes his rightful place in the Ring of Honor, and at this point only hope that it happens much sooner than we may have all expected. I’ll finish by paraphrasing Stover’s own words, from his now infamous off-season email:
“I want to make this clear: I have no personal agenda as I would hope everyone else would as well. I only want what is best for the Union (Ravens) and our teammates and my intentions are to establish a healthy leadership (kicking game) for years to come. I believe that whoever the candidate would end up being has the opportunity to gain valuable insight and experience to lead future generations of players.”
“As I recommend this process, I fully realize this is just 1 man. However, I was on that conference call (at that Browns game) and I am not the only Rep. (fan) who listened (witnessed) and felt that it is time for a change. As I make this suggestion, I will only hope that every one of us will put any personal agenda aside and remember who each of us represent. Both the old and young players in our locker rooms have voted us in because they trust our judgment (your accuracy). This is about the future of our organization. Not now … not (and) 1 or 2 years from now, but (and) 5, 10, 15 years from now. Thanks.”