The NFL's continuing overemphasis on kicking and kickers is a threat to the future of pro football as a reliable entertainment vehicle, a veteran expert on statistics said Tuesday.
Seymour Siwoff, head of the Elias Sports Bureau, pointed to what he called two disturbing phenomena:
--An all-time record 40% of NFL kickoffs this season have landed in the end zone, where they are unplayable, repeatedly depriving football fans of one of their favorite runs, the kickoff return.
--More intensively than ever, coaches are playing for field goals instead of touchdowns, and often winning without scoring a touchdown, as the San Diego Chargers did Sunday, 18-17, and as the Kansas City Chiefs did Monday night, 15-7.
"A kick is a dead play," said Siwoff, whose bureau services baseball, football and other sports organizations. "There's nothing much to see but a guy swinging his foot.
"A kicker isn't a football player, he's a guy with an art form.
"That's not what sponsors are paying for on TV, and it isn't what football fans want. They want long passes, long runs and touchdowns.
"Fans of the home team want to win, true, and any way they win is a good way to them, so they don't object to good kickers--but in the long run, the NFL is in trouble with most football fans by emphasizing an art form over football."
Siwoff pointed to two other "disturbing facts" about pro football's trend of the year: For the Rams, Tony Zendejas has kicked an NFL all-time record eight consecutive field goals of 50 yards or more. For the New York Giants, Brad Daluiso is a kickoff specialist with no other responsibility. The Giants also carry a kicker and a punter.
The kickoff problem is the easiest for the NFL's leaders to fix. All they need to do is forbid kicking tees.
"The tee is an artificial device," Siwoff said. "It's the only artificial thing they allow in pro football. Why allow anything artificial?"
Raider problem: When Coach Art Shell was a Hall of Fame player in Oakland, he was on a team that won with aggressive football whenever it reached the other team's 30-yard line. In those days, with the ball that close, the Raiders commonly threw first-down passes into the end zone.
In their Cleveland game here Sunday, the Raiders lost all chance to win as early as the first quarter, before Jeff Hostetler was hurt, when, with a 7-0 lead, they twice ran the ball unsuccessfully on first down after making two quick interceptions inside the Browns' 30.
Shell had come out with first-down passes to win his first two games this fall, and the Raiders were still passing aggressively en route to their early 7-0 lead against Cleveland. At that point, their conservative turn was premature. In Al Davis' best days, the Raiders only turned conservative with safe second-half leads.
Ram problem: Quarterback Jim Everett is wrongly getting the heat for losing last Sunday's game in the Meadowlands, where the Giants held a Chuck Knox team to a total of 45 yards running.
The truth is that against a good defense, Everett isn't the only quarterback who looks bad when his team can't run.
It is doubtful, in fact, if Giant quarterback Phil Simms could have beaten Everett Sunday without Rodney Hampton's 134 rushing yards.
"Having Rodney gives us the ability to either run or throw in those tough third-and-two and third-and-three situations," Simms said.
That's what Everett doesn't have.
With Smith back, the Cowboys are once more alternating his power runs with Aikman's short passes.
"The defense has to use more eight-man fronts to (stop) Smith," Dallas receiver Alvin Harper said after catching a career-high six passes in the Cowboys' first winning effort Sunday night. "That makes them play us more man-to-man."