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As Saints opponents miss kicks at stunning rate, dissecting New Orleans’ run of ‘good fortune’ | Saints

Saints kicker Wil Lutz knocked on wood before answering, but really couldn’t come up with anything.

“I really can’t explain that,” he said.

Neither could punter Thomas Morstead, who suggested it may just be “good fortune.”

Or maybe, as others have suggested on social media, it’s just the late Tom Benson helping out with some divine intervention.

During one of the Saints’ weekly meetings, Sparty, the Michigan State mascot, came bursting into the room.

But for whatever reason, opposing kickers have struggled against the Saints this season.

While Lutz has consistently split the uprights, kickers from other teams are missing field goals left and right — both figuratively and literally — when they play the Saints. And the ones that don’t sail left or right clang off the upright, like one of the two misses Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ kicker Cairos Santos missed on Sunday.

Good fortune? Skill?

“It’s probably a combination of both,” said Sean Payton. “I know this. We’re better rushing that kicker today than we have been in 13 years. That’s a credit to (special teams coach) Mike (Westhoff) and the coaches and the players that are on those units because we’ve had several close blocks.”

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No matter if they are kicking inside the Mercedes Benz Superdome with Who Dat Nation screaming at them, or kicking on their home field in dead silence, the misses have just kept coming for opponents.

Opposing kickers have missed six field goals (13 of 19) against the Saints this season. That 68.4 percent rate is the second worst in the league, trailing only the Detroit Lions, whose opponents are making just 65.4 percent of their field goals. The Lions’ numbers are aided by a rough  day by Green Bay Packers’ kicker Mason Crosby, who went 1 for 5 on field goals in a game in October. 

“I’ve been around and seen maybe three or four, but not six,” said Saints linebacker and special teams standout Craig Robertson. “It just shows guys having a high effort. Everybody on that unit is going after the ball. All of us have the mindset that if the other team messes up, I’m going to be the guy to block it. That’s the kind of attitude the coaches have instilled in us since training camp. If you’re close, and the kicker repeatedly sees that week in and week out, that has him thinking ‘they might block it.’ Our coach has done a good job coaching it and we have guys giving it up on every play trying to block it.”

The Saints haven’t blocked a field goal or extra point this season. But opposing kickers have made missed four field goals (9 of 13) inside the Dome and two (4 of 6) in their home stadium.

“I feel like we have been a pretty good pressure team, whether it be punt rush or field goal rush,” Morstead said. “We are playing on the same field as the other team so it’s just good luck by our team. There have been seasons here where teams haven’t missed a field goal against us.”

Kurt Coleman spent last season in Carolina as a teammate of Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey.

And those numbers don’t include missed extra points. Opponents have missed four PATs against the Saints this season. That’s a total of 10 missed kicks this season.

One of those missed extra points was one of the rarest misses ever. Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker, the most accurate kicker in NFL history, missed what would have been a game-tying PAT that would have forced overtime in October. Instead, the Saints escaped with a 24-23 victory. It’s the only extra point Tucker has ever missed. He’s made the other 236.

“I can’t tell you exactly what happened,” Tucker said that day.

Robertson says the Saints field goal rush unit takes extra points just as serious as field goals.

“The extra point for us is not a take off play,” Robertson said. “It’s not a play where we say ‘oh they scored, I’m mad at myself.’ We flush that and try to go out there and block the extra point. Guys are giving it their all and we’ve been fortunate they have missed a lot.”

Hey, Cleveland … we may have found your new placekicker if Greg Joseph doesn’t work out. 

Lutz, meanwhile, has been almost automatic. He’s missed just one field goal and one extra point all year. His only missed field goal came at home against Cleveland in Week 2. Since then, he’s made 23 consecutive field goals and is just three shy of breaking Morten Andersen’s team record of 25 in a row.

Lutz, in his third season, has made 96.2 percent of his field goals this season, almost 12 percentage points ahead of the league average of 84.1. He was above the league average last season as well, making 86.1 percent of his field goals as compared to the league average of 84.3. He was just under the league average in 2016, his first season with the Saints when he made 82.4 percent and the league average was 84.2.

While his personal field goal numbers have increased, Saints’ opponents numbers have decreased.

Opponents made 91.4 percent of their field goals against the Saints in 2016. That number dipped to 82.5 percent last season.

Now it’s 68.4, with three regular season games to go.

“There is a tempo and timing element,” Payton said. “And clearly at times it might be good fortune.”

Follow Rod Walker on Twitter, @rwalkeradvocate.

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