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Buccaneers vs. Cowboys: Working the Roberto Aguayo Equation

Bucs rookie kicker Roberto Aguayo connected on all three of his field goal attempts Sunday against the Saints. He made field goals of 41, 39 and 26 yards. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
Bucs rookie kicker Roberto Aguayo connected on all three of his field goal attempts Sunday against the Saints. He made field goals of 41, 39 and 26 yards. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
Published May 30, 2017

How do you win games when the kicker you drafted in the (ahem) second round is not as automatic as you hoped?

Call it the Aguayo Equation, and Bucs coach Dirk Koetter has been working on it all season.

The calculation was once simple. Let Roberto Aguayo play through his struggles. The Bucs had too much invested in him to change course, and aside from perhaps the Rams game in Week 3, he wasn't costing the team wins.

Now, it's more complex. The stakes are higher. It's one thing to miss a few kicks when your team is 1-3. It's another when your team is playing close games in a playoff race.

RELATED STORY: Can kicker Roberto Aguayo make the Bucs a winner? The numbers are clear.

Aguayo's 72 percent conversion rate on field goals ranks last in the NFL. He has been more reliable recently. After missing five of his first 11 field goals, he has made 12 of his past 14.

His one thought before a kick: Make good contact.

"It doesn't matter how hard you hit it," Aguayo said this week at One Buc Place as the Bucs prepared for the Cowboys. "If you strike it well, on the sweet spot, it'll go, just like golf. If I swing hard, it's not going to go as far. If you strike it well, it'll go where you want it to go."

On longer field goals, he remains unproven. He has attempted one kick from 50 yards — two months ago in San Francisco — and missed. He has connected on four of nine field goals of 40 or more yards. The league average on such attempts is 71 percent.

That uncertainty is one of the reasons Koetter will think twice before sending Aguayo onto the field to try a long kick. The risk remains too high and the consequences too great, especially for a team that has little room for error.

Misses aren't just deflating. They give opponents a short field, and a key to the Bucs' turnaround has been their emphasis on field position. Opponents are having to sustain longer drives to score points.

In the final minutes Sunday against the Saints, Koetter passed on the chance to kick a 53-yard field goal and take an eight-point lead. He instead chose to punt and left it to the defense to close out New Orleans.

Before the game, Aguayo told Koetter and special teams coach Nate Kaczor that he was good to go if the offense reached the 35.

"I wanted to hit it," he said. "I was ready. I was hitting the ball well the whole game. But at the end of the day, it's (the coach's) decision."

Koetter maintained Wednesday that he has "100 percent confidence" in Aguayo.

"If we're in range, and we need to kick, we kick. End of story."

Consider the situations Koetter has managed this season. Austin Seferian-Jenkins' arrest. Jameis Winston's turnovers. Shaky pass protection. Injuries at running back and receiver.

The most delicate: the second-round kicker's misses.

Koetter walks a line so thin that it would intimidate even Nik Wallenda. Show patience, but uphold high expectations. Cultivate confidence, but do whatever it takes to win. Acknowledge progress, but note there's still much to prove.

Take, for instance, Koetter's reaction to Aguayo's 4-for-4 performance that chilly afternoon last month in Kansas City.

"It's not like we were in Siberia today."

Sounds like someone who knows kicks are only going to get tougher.

Contact Thomas Bassinger at tbassinger@tampabay.com. Follow @tometrics.

Field goal percentage leaders

Minimum 10 games

Top 5

Player Team G FGM FGA FG%
Justin Tucker BAL 13 31 32 96.9
Matt Bryant ATL 13 27 29 93.1
Matt Prater DET 13 28 31 90.3
Steven Hauschka SEA 13 27 30 90
Ryan Succop TEN 13 18 20 90

Bottom 5

Player Team G FGM FGA FG%
Chris Boswell PIT 12 14 18 77.8
Andrew Franks MIA 13 14 18 77.8
Wil Lutz NOR 13 21 27 77.8
Chandler Catanzaro ARI 13 16 21 76.2
Roberto Aguayo TAM 13 18 25 72