BRONCOS

Stukes: ‘Confidence’ in McManus helped drive fateful decision to try 64-yarder

Sep 15, 2022, 4:37 PM | Updated: 7:35 pm
Dwayne Stukes...
(Photo by Andrew Mason / DenverFan.com)
(Photo by Andrew Mason / DenverFan.com)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As Broncos special-teams coordinator Dwayne Stukes said Thursday, it was confidence in the player that drove the Broncos’ decision to send Brandon McManus onto the field for a 64-yard, game-winning attempt Monday, eschewing a fourth-and-5.

“Brandon goes out there, and he kicks the ball. He feels comfortable; he feels confident,” Stukes explained. “We — myself and Coach ‘Mal’ [assistant special-teams coach Mike Mallory] out there — are monitoring where he’s kicking the ball from.

“Obviously he had the leg, he just pulled the ball, right? Everybody knows that he’s a good kicker. He’s a quality kicker. Sixty-four yards, the 46-yard line, was the line for us versus Seattle.

“We were confident in Brandon making that kick, or we wouldn’t have sent him out there. It just so happened that he didn’t make the kick. But, you’ve gotta live with that now.”

McManus said that the outer limit of his range was 64 yards — or at the Seattle 46, the line to which the Broncos offense advanced after a third-down pass to Javonte Williams, leading to fourth-and-5.

Stukes confirmed that the Seattle 46 was the “line of desperation,” as host Darren McKee described it when he asked Stukes about the attempt.

“One-hundred percent,” Stukes said. “You always get down to a line where you feel this is a ‘must-have-it’ type field goal. And that situation was a must-have it. Yeah, we could have gone for it on fourth down and all them type of things, but again, the decision was to send him out there because we felt confident in him making the field goal. It just didn’t work out that night.”

The thing is … 60-plus yard field goals don’t often work out, period.

Confidence in the individual player was of a higher priority than the brute reality of performance of kickers with attempts from beyond 60 yards.

The NFL has more cannon-legged kickers than at any point in its history. McManus is clearly among them. His raw leg strength is unquestioned. Anyone who has seen him hit 70-yarders in practice and pre-game warmups can attest first-hand to this. When he misses, it’s typically about accuracy. Rarely is it about distance.

Yet, under the pressure of game conditions, the evidence for even the strongest of legs from 60-plus differs from optimistic belief.

***

Since 1960, just 27 of 166 field-goal attempts were successful, per the data compiled by pro-football-reference.com. Now, that includes attempts from the years when kicking was massively inconsistent — e.g. 1960-90, when kickers went 2-of-46 from 60-plus.

Since then, it’s 25-of-110 — 22.8 percent. And since McManus made his regular-season debut in 2014, it’s 24.5 percent from 60-plus — 13-of-53. But for the nine-year-veteran himself, it’s 12.5 percent — 1-of-8 after Monday night’s miss.

Further, from 50 to 59 yards, McManus’ career success rate of 61.1 percent is slightly below the league average of 65.2 percent, and ranks 32nd among 48 kickers with at least 10 attempts from 50-59 yards in that span.

“No disrespect to Brandon, no disrespect to the operation. It just didn’t happen [Monday],” Stukes said. “But we felt confident in sending him out there. We did. One-hundred percent.”

Confidence is good, but it needs to come tethered to the reality of recent history.

That said, there is a point at which McManus would exhaust the confidence of his coaches.

“We’re not going to go out there and just say, ‘All right, the mark is 46 yards, 48 yards, and then we keep missing those and keep sending him out there,” Stukes said. “We’re definitely not going to do that, because we’re in the business of winning games.”

But it doesn’t appear that the Broncos are at that point yet.

“Again, when you see it in pre-game, and you see him kick the ball out here [in practice in Denver] — and I know that it’s different kicking the ball here than other places — but when you see him make some of those field goals, then you’re confident in his ability to do it,” Stukes said.

“There is no way myself, Coach [Nathaniel] Hackett, Coach Mal, anyone else would have said, ‘Hey, Brandon, go kick a 64-yard field goal’ if we didn’t think he was going to make it.

“… We thought we were going to leave with a score of 19-17.”

Alas, they didn’t. And thus, the debate will rage on until there is another similar moment — if it happens.

***

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Stukes: ‘Confidence’ in McManus helped drive fateful decision to try 64-yarder