Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

22 May 2018

Here Come the Kickoff Changes

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 22 May 2018

50 comments, Last at 11 Jun 2018, 9:25am by dbostedo


by Will Allen :: Tue, 05/22/2018 - 8:11pm

Not allowing the kicking team to have a running start will, I suspect, encourage good returners to take more kicks out of the end zone, resulting in a net increase of severe collisions.

These guys need to make up their mind about what they hope to accomplish.

by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Tue, 05/22/2018 - 11:07pm

Yeah, they're pretty terrible at this.

I have a feeling the 4th segment is going to really mess with things (receiving team blockers can't advance until they touch the ball)

by Will Allen :: Wed, 05/23/2018 - 12:37am

I'm to the point where, if they are going to keep mindlessly screwing around with this, that I would prefer they just get rid of kickoffs, and use the PAT after tds to determine field position/possession, and make the field position after successful field goals such that teams had strong incentive to try to convert 4th downs, instead of kicking field goals. On that relatively rare end of the game situation, where a team wants to retain possession after a field goal, have them try to get to the end zone on a play from the 20. If they fail, the opponent gets the short field, starting on the 30.

Done right, we would incentivize fewer PAT kicks, the most boring play in football, fewer field goals and more 4 down offense. What's not to like?

by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Wed, 05/23/2018 - 3:23pm

I can't help but think that the composition of the Competition Committee is most of the problem. Only 4 of 11 are coaches, and Marvin Lewis is a long term constant mediocrity who coaches a team with a long history of not seeming to understand the concept of rules, and while Tomlin is a pretty good coach, the nitty-gritty of rules interactions doesn't seem like his wheelhouse. I think Sean Payton is the only guy of the 11 I'd actually want on the committee.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Wed, 05/23/2018 - 3:59am

I'm not sure I understand that "4th" segment - the penultimate one.

On the left it says "receiving team can't block until the ball is touched or hits the ground" then on the right it says they "can block once the ball is kicked".

However I read it they just seem to contradict each other.

by Theo :: Wed, 05/23/2018 - 5:32am

The left is the new rule, the right one is the old rule.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Wed, 05/23/2018 - 7:13am

Thanks mate.

There was a big hint in that red banner at the top, wasn't there? :-D

by Bryan Knowles :: Wed, 05/23/2018 - 3:23am

This may be true (although I doubt it will increase the risk more than it is on, say, punt returns).

What it would also seem to reduce, however, is the micro-collisions and repeated impacts at the beginning of the play, which can be just as damaging in the long run, as well as impacts away from the play.

In the last three years, there have been 11 concussions on kickoff touchbacks -- just from people crashing into one another before the ball was even caught, on a play that was for all intents and purposes dead from the start. There have, presumably, been more concussions on blocks that would not have impacted the play on shorter returns, as well. It would seem -- or, at least, I would assume the intent is -- that this would reduce and potentially eliminate plays like that.

by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Wed, 05/23/2018 - 9:38am

I don't think its going to affect micro-collisions at all.

They made it more difficult for the kicking team to get a running start (by making them start closer to the LOS), and then went ahead and made the defense stand still (well, not advance) until the ball is caught - which is just going to mean the kicking team is going to use the 10 yard gap to get a running start. All they've done is move the collision point 5 yards forward.

by Noah Arkadia :: Wed, 05/23/2018 - 12:04pm

Not at all, because there can't be contact until the ball is caught. That means the blocking team will have to run backward at the start of the play, making it more likely players will be closer in speed to each other when they engage.

by jtr :: Wed, 05/23/2018 - 12:23pm

There can't be contact IN THE FIRST 15 YARDS until the ball is caught. There are 10 yards of overlap between the area the return team is required to line up 8 of their players and the area where contact is allowed before the ball is caught. So the return team can just put all their guys in that area and they can block without ever having to backpedal. They're still going to end up being guys at a standstill trying to block guys running at full speed.

by Noah Arkadia :: Wed, 05/23/2018 - 12:34pm

Yes, you're right. Now I understand the surprise at the rule, it doesn't seem to do anything.

by ibrosey :: Wed, 05/23/2018 - 12:00pm

According to John Clayton, balls kicked into the endzone cannot be returned. Like college.

by Will Allen :: Wed, 05/23/2018 - 2:11pm

I could be wrong, but I believe what is being copied from college is that a ball that touches the ground in the end zone without being touched outside the end zone is an automatic touchback.

by ChrisLong :: Wed, 05/23/2018 - 1:25am

My understanding is that their goal with these changes was to make kickoffs more like punts, which have way fewer injuries. No running starts, everyone is close together at the start of the play, no double-teams causing huge collisions after a 50 yard head start. All of this sounds good to me. Maybe it won’t work out the way they think, but I think the intent and execution here were as good as they could be.

Here’s a link to an article describing the intent, although the rules are slightly different than suggested: https://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2018/05/02/adjustments-will-make-k...

by ChrisS :: Wed, 05/23/2018 - 10:33am

Why not just make it a punt? Just add a rule about how many yards needed on a fake to maintain possession. That would be much less confusing than continually tweaking the kick off rules.

by jtr :: Wed, 05/23/2018 - 10:37am

100% agreed. Seems like between this an the recent XP change, they're trying to "fix" plays they would be better off rebuilding from scractch or eliminating entirely.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Wed, 05/23/2018 - 3:52am

Best set of changes they've come up rather than just let's screw around with the kickoff line / touchback position.

That they've told us what the effect is reminds me that most changes then seem to have unintended consequences so what really matters is how the coaches try to use these rules to their advantage.

by Theo :: Wed, 05/23/2018 - 5:36am

If you can't initiate a block 15 yards from the restrain/kick line - then how do you defend against onside kicks, they are live after 10 yards.

All in all, it will look like they want players to run the same way aside from each other and only block when the ball is caught, other than the blocks where people are running into each other.
Making it look like a big punt return.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Wed, 05/23/2018 - 7:12am

Yes, it could improve the ability to recover onside kicks.

Remember that the preferred method is to kick it immediately into the ground to produce a big hop. The new rule allows for that and they can start blocking.

But I think you might start to see teams look to drop-kick it 10-yds through the air. You might see a few more of these types of kick https://youtu.be/QxPqxXQDV1g?t=24s

by Theo :: Wed, 05/23/2018 - 7:21am

Huh, I've never seen that play!
I wonder if you can now just kick it high and make it land at the 10, what can the receiving team do other than hoping to catch it? They can't block for it.

by jds :: Wed, 05/23/2018 - 7:56am

I think the problem with that is the receiving team can signal for a fair catch.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Wed, 05/23/2018 - 3:50pm

I'm not certain of the fair catch on a kickoff rule, but I believe you're obligated to attempt a field goal. I don't see a circumstance where that is advantageous.

by Vincent Verhei :: Wed, 05/23/2018 - 6:11pm

No, you have the option to try a field goal, but you can also just the ball with a first-and-10 at the spot of the fair catch. Seen it many times on pooch kicks.

Here's what the free kick after a fair catch looks like. Nobody has any idea what the hell is going on.


by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Thu, 05/24/2018 - 1:07pm

Which is why teams bounce the ball on onsides, even when they're trying to kick it in the air. If you just put it in the air, the other team immediately fair catches and gets a clean opportunity to catch the ball.

by PatsFan :: Fri, 05/25/2018 - 11:45pm

I prefer this one:

I love how Charlie Jones (one of my all-time favorite announcers) knew the situation and the rule pretty much as soon as the ball was caught.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Sat, 05/26/2018 - 3:15am

It's amazing how long that one takes you to actually to happen!

There's a few of these around. I didn't realise Mike Cofer attempted one for the 49ers in the playoffs against the Vikings. Then I saw it and realised why they'd cut it from the highlights of the game I saw. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=awJottxfqeg

There's also this one ... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2oQ4NEhWVUE

From 1968 ... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gIR4VZU6yu0

And on a completely different tack, *this* came up in my Youtube feed ... Danny White punts from beyond line of scrimmage and apparently it's legal!! ... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EJiJYUUCalI

by PatsFan :: Sat, 05/26/2018 - 5:33pm

I think they've changed the rule since then re: White. From the current rulebook:
Article 1 Team A may attempt a punt, drop kick, or placekick from behind the line of scrimmage. Penalty: For a punt, drop kick, or placekick that is kicked from beyond the line of scrimmage or not from scrimmage: Loss of 10 yards from the spot of the kick.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 05/23/2018 - 5:04pm

I think the ball would become live for the blockers on the drop part of the kick.

The really gamey kick will be a short pop up that goes 9 yards. It can’t be fair caught, because blockers can’t advance to catch it until it lands. But kickoff members can start blocking. Basically, the return team is at a huge disadvantage.

You can attempt an untimed, unblocked FG after a fair caught KO, but are not obligated to,

by Noah Arkadia :: Thu, 05/24/2018 - 12:49pm

If you could do that if would be fantastic, but it's really hard to pop up the ball from the tee. I don't think that will be an issue.

by Dan_L :: Fri, 05/25/2018 - 9:05am

My first thought was that onside kicks would become easier to defend. The kicking team having a running start is a big deal. Moving 5 yards forward while facing the ball is alot easier than moving 10 yards forward and turning for the ball.

by jtr :: Wed, 05/23/2018 - 7:41am

They get rid of the running start, but now blockers can't touch coverage players for the first 15 yards. Which means that there's a 15 yard running start before any contact. The medium-to-small sized players who tend to cover kicks are certainly at full speed after 15 yards. How the hell does that reduce injuries? The only way to make it "punt like" is to start the players directly opposite one another, so it's like an ordinary LOS blocking play. As long as you're giving the players a 15 yard runway to get up to speed, you're going to have very violent collisions. I agree with Will above, this is going to lead to more kickoff returns, but not safer kickoff returns. This is going to end up backfiring, unless the secret goal is more kickoff return touchdowns, in which case it may succeed.

by Will Allen :: Wed, 05/23/2018 - 8:18am

Cordarelle Patterson just became a more valuable player, that's for sure. I sense another one of Darth Hoodie's diabolical schemes!

by billprudden :: Wed, 05/23/2018 - 8:29am

"unless the secret goal is more kickoff return touchdowns, in which case it may succeed"

Never attribute to intent that which can be explained by incompetence, or something like that...

by sbond101 :: Wed, 05/23/2018 - 8:35am

I definitely think a key unstated goal here is to make kickoffs a more offensive play (rather than right now where most returns that occur are positive plays for the coverage team). I'm not totally sure why, but it seems to me the NFL thinks successful kick coverage is boring (much like they seem to think successful pass defense is boring).

by ssereb :: Wed, 05/23/2018 - 11:44am

It's not that successful kick coverage is boring (though it sometimes is), it's that the alternative to successful kick coverage, a return touchdown, is one of the most exciting plays in the game.

by jtr :: Wed, 05/23/2018 - 10:40am

Since we won't get it's own XP on it, I just want to take a moment to appreciate the Christian Hackenberg trade. Imagine how humiliating it must be to be traded for a conditional seventh rounder--that means that if the condition doesn't get met, you get traded for NOTHING. What the hell do the Raiders see in him? If he hasn't been good enough to take a single snap (or even dress most of the time) in that Jets QB room, what makes you think he can be at all useful in your QB room?

by Raiderjoe :: Wed, 05/23/2018 - 11:19am

C. hackenberg tmremnioud talent. excellent potential. If D. Carr needs game or tow off due to injury, Hackenberg will be able to stwep in and play well. Remidns of T. Aikman being backed up by Beuerlein, then kosar, and later J. Garrett. usually dallas fared well when aikman was out. see same thing hapepnign with Raiders,

by Lebo :: Wed, 05/23/2018 - 12:32pm

Apparently, Gruden wrote an article about Hackenberg after his freshman(?) season touting him as a prodigious talent and potential first round draft pick.

by jtr :: Thu, 05/24/2018 - 9:50am

I'm sure there's a Gruden QB Camp episode out there that explains it, with Gruden becoming visibly aroused by Hackenberg's ability to find the fullback in the flat on the Spider 2 Y Banana.

by justanothersteve :: Fri, 05/25/2018 - 4:58pm

Hackenburg's Gruden QB Camp video

by ChrisS :: Wed, 05/23/2018 - 1:05pm

The Osweiller trade is probably more embarrassing. Osweiler and a 2nd and 6th for a 4th, which makes Osweiler worth about a negative low 2nd round pick (assuming the other picks were mid-round). His salary was stupid for the Texans.

by The Ninjalectual :: Wed, 05/23/2018 - 7:31pm

In case you missed it, here's Tanier's recent article griping about the sensitive snowflakes our star quarterbacks have become lately. If Hackensack considers this a "humiliation", I would think about counting him among that group, not least because it's a bit surprising he wasn't simply cut outright.

by jtr :: Wed, 05/23/2018 - 12:27pm

One thing that just occurred to me is that these new rules leave a huuuuuuge area of the field that the return team can only cover with three guys. That could open a surprise onside path where the kicker pops the ball up into all that open grass--say, around the 30 yard line--and the kicking team tries to win a footrace to the ball. Even if the odds of success aren't great there, it's lower risk than a traditional onside since you're pushing the ball into not-awful field position. Plus, squib kicks should be more effective, since it'll be easier to find spots of the field where it'll take a while for the return team to recover the ball.

by jtr :: Thu, 05/24/2018 - 2:49pm

Here's Troy Vincent on the rationale behind the rule change:
“What our data has said is most of those head injuries occurred up in that first 15 yards, which we call the no-blocking zone. The short sets, the quick sets, the blindside blocks occur in those areas, so we believe it will reduce some of the unnecessary risk that we’ve seen in the past."

This is such a foolish misinterpretation of the data. The injuries weren't happening in the first 15 yards because that's the most dangerous part of the field, they were happening there because that's where the opposing teams would first meet. All they've done is moved that sport a few yards further back, so the kicking team has even more momentum built up by the time first contact occurs. It could even encourage teams to put bigger players on coverage units, since they'll have a longer free release to get up to speed and then bowl over the poor bastard who has to stand there waiting for him.

by Theo :: Fri, 05/25/2018 - 8:15am

I am really really really curious to see inside a training camp to see how a coaching staff and a kickoff and return units respond to these changes and how these changes are going to be practiced on... so I expect to see nothing on it in Hard Knocks.

by Mello :: Mon, 05/28/2018 - 7:48am

Enjoy the Sarcastiball. The rule changes have already run me off from the sport and the foolishness continues. Really wish our sports had actual governing bodies that cared about the sport rather than just groups of people trying to accumulate as much money as they can before they die.

by LionInAZ :: Mon, 05/28/2018 - 2:58pm

You mean like our US Olympic Comittee governing boards?

Seriously, if your ideal group had ever existed, they would have been lynched by angry mobs long ago. Run of the mill fans care more about winning, and that takes money in the world-as-we-made-it.

by Mello :: Tue, 05/29/2018 - 4:36pm

No, the Olympic Committees don't actually regulate the sports. I'm thinking of organizations like FIFA, FIBA, and FIVB. A worldwide organization group like that is a requirement to be an Olympic sport though. Granted, FIFA does just about everything they can for money including exploiting any country they can, but at least they don't recklessly change the base rules of the game around.

by dbostedo :: Mon, 06/11/2018 - 9:25am

I bet if they had the concussion problems/PR that the NFL does, they would.

Just to make up a ridiculous analogy, let's pretend it was discovered that soccer players die early, or are greatly impacted later in life, due to frequent ankle contact/impacts. I think you'd see pretty extreme changes - no slide tackles, much tougher rules on over collisions, etc. That's pretty much what the NFL is dealing with, in a sport that was already much more complicated, rules-wise.