Extra Points
News and commentary from around the Web

NFL Tables Discussion of Fourth-and-15 "Onside Kick"

In a virtual online meeting today, the NFL owners discussed rule changes and debated the idea of using a fourth-and-15 play as an alternative to onside kicks. They made a decision to table the proposal, which had too many outstanding issues to win approval. There were apparently two major concerns: first, that teams could gain substantially more than 15 yards on the play, and second, that a fourth-and-15 play put extra pressure on officials who could severely change games with a holding or pass interference call.

Some new rules were passed. They start with a preseason experiment to allow expanded communication between officials on the field and in the booth, in lieu of a "SkyJudge" officiating position. The NFL also closed a loophole that allowed teams to run time off the clock by committing multiple dead-ball fouls, expanded defenseless player protection to kick and punt returners, and increased the number of players who can return from IR from two to three.

View Full Article


15 comments, Last at 02 Jun 2020, 8:35pm

1 This makes me happy.  I…

This makes me happy.  I understand that drama is generally good for television, but I don't know why there's a push to make it easier for losing teams to win.  Converting a 4th and 15 sounds way too easy to pull off.  Throw in that the most likely outcome of a successful play goes from retaining possession 10 yards downfield to possibly scoring a touchdown, and 4th and 15 was never a suitable replacement for the onside kick.

I think the NFL would be better served by reducing the number of players on the field during kickoffs to somewhere between 7 and 9 per side.

2 Would 7 per side actually…

Would 7 per side actually help?

It could reduce collisions by having fewer players getting blocked. Or it could increase collisions because more returners would elect to return the kick from the end zone.


If the concern is not safety, but that onside kicks are too hard to pull off under today's rules, another option would be to require the kick to go fewer yards, either with the receiving team lining up closer too, or not. That's probably safety-neutral. But it would make onside kicks easier to convert.


3 onside kick versus 4th and 15

To me, one thing to maybe fix a potential issue is this: it's 4th and 15--BUT, if the "kicking" team converts--they only get the ball at the 45 yard line or the dead ball spot, whichever is FURTHER from the end zone. There is no potential for advancement beyond the 45. If the "receiving" team prevents them from gaining a first down, they possess the ball at either the 35 (normal kickoff line) OR the dead ball spot--whichever is FURTHER from the end zone. There is no potential to advance a turnover or possess the ball beyond the opponents 35. Any "automatic 1st down" defensive penalties only advance the ball the necessary yardage--capped at the 45--and any offensive penalties automatically result in a failure, with the 35 as the best case scenario.

In other words, the "kicking" team can't just throw a bomb, hoping for a DPI to basically "recover the onside kick" at the opponents 35-40 yard line--basically in long FG range. They can only maintain possession 55-60 yards away from the end zone. The "receiving team" can only hope to stop them, and retain possession between 35-39 yards away from their end zone.

This also allows the down to be untimed, without the potential of a trailing team scoring a TD with <10 seconds left, advancing the ball 30-40 yards (or further) on the "onside kick" and having the potential to kick the GW FG or score a 2nd TD. Even onside kicks run a couple of seconds off the clock, and even if the kicking team recovers them, they are still usually 50+ yards away from the goal line. So, let's try to keep it close to the recovering yard line for both teams, and where the kicking team doesn't get an unnecessary advantage not normally conferred with the recovery of an onside kick. The receiving team's advantage is as normal--you recovered, you can almost assuredly run out the clock with a couple of kneel-downs.

4 I like your idea but with two modifications

I like that the team only gets the ball back at their own 45 if they convert. But if the team converts, does it matter where the teams line up? I think it might be more challenging if it were 4th and goal-to-go from the opponent's 15, meaning you have to cross the goal line which only counts to then get the ball at your 45. I think it would be significantly more difficult to get the ball in the end zone from the 15 yard line than just make 15 yards on one play with over half the field for the defense to cover. 

I would also time the play. The clock counts down on an onside kick from the moment the ball is touched until the play is blown dead. This play should be no different. If the team uses up all the remaining time to make the conversion, too bad. 

5 I understand your points too

I thought about the "defend the whole field" idea, too. That's why I have the limited advancement--there's no point in throwing a bomb 35 yards down the field if you can only get credit for 20. There's also no incentive for the defense to commit a penalty to limit the gain on a play, or for the offense to commit a penalty to "get another chance." But the good part about your idea of starting down by the goal line is the pylon cameras already in place, the obvious line to cross, etc.--it just doesn't give the opportunity to gain MORE than 15 yards, or the easy way to spot the ball for the defense to take over if the offense doesn't convert.

Maybe the clock should run, but only 7 seconds max or something. The offense obviously doesn't want to waste time, but the defense does. Now, an onside kick almost never lasts for more than 2-3 seconds, because the clock doesn't start until the ball is touched. Sometimes, the first guy to touch it catches it cleanly and drops to the ground; other times, there is definitely a scramble for it. So, to each their own, I guess. My thought was to eliminate the incentive to run extra clock. 

6 It rarely matters how long…

It rarely matters how long the clock runs if the receiving team recovers an onside kick. But I have seen scrambles for the ball last several seconds. I do like your idea of limiting the time off to 7 seconds, so maybe start the clock but stop it after 5-7 seconds. It's not like we don't have the technology to do this (although the NFL somehow manages to bungle the technical side of clock management far too often). I don't recall any onside kick plays lasting longer unless the recovering team is also advancing the ball which takes time off the clock. 

I would just put the ball at the kicking team's 45 yard line after the "onside attempt" and award the ball there based on the outcome of the play. The ball usually ends up within 5 yards of the 45 yard line after onside attempts regardless of which team recovers the ball. 

12 Award it at the 45

now that sounds like a simple idea. 4th and goal from the 15, 1 shot at converting. Any penalty means the other team is credited with the conversion. Ball at the "kicking team" 45, no matter what. Any fumble automatically ends play, including dropped lateral; interceptions do too. Time is run off, and let's say: Actual time ran off, with a maximum of 10 seconds. 

I don't know that I would vote for this proposal--but it seems like it's simple enough. 

Other FO posters--please feel free to voice your opinion on Steve's and my proposal. What would you modify?

8  a push to make it easier…

 a push to make it easier for losing teams to win

Why do you think that would happen? It seems to me that this would have the opposite effect: good teams will be able to convert more often (or prevent you from converting). 

Like how Andy Reid said something like "I am against this rule, but at least if it passes it will help us because we've got a guy who can do 4th and 15"

11 Pretty sure that they picked…

Pretty sure that they picked '4th and 15' particularly because the conversion rate was approximately similar to what the success rate was on onside kicks before the rules changes forced by concerns over player health;  conversely, I've seen that teams attempting onside kicks in a game have lost the last 104 games it's been tried in, and I think that's too far in the other direction

14 Does that stat only include…

Does that stat only include regular season games, or have there actually been 104 such games since the Seahawks were successful in the 2014 NFC Championship game?



13 erm

I think 4th and 15 was chosen because the success rate of that is fairly similar to the success rate of onside kicks prior to the recent safety-related rule changes (which make them virtually impossible now). But if it turns out that it seems too easy to succeed, it's not hard to tweak the distance to go once you've made the initial rule change.

7 I will again advocate for…

I will again advocate for getting rid of kickoffs altogether by having point after attempts determine field position and possession, and having field position be automatic after a made field goal. Yes, this would end the field goal-onside kick-go for td gambit when a team is down 9-11 points, but so what? Trailing team will just have to get the td first.

A PA kick from the 10? Opponent gets the ball at the 35. A two point attempt from the 2? Opponent gets the ball at the 25. A successful two point conversion from the 20? Get the ball back at the 50. Might adjust that based on what the success rate is for teams that have to score a td on play from the 20. 15 just seems a little too easy, but maybe I'm wrong.

9 If the 'kicking' team heaves…

If the 'kicking' team heaves it downfield for 50 yards, then they've made a good play.

What's wrong with rewarding that with 50 yards?

10 Officiating

To me, the onside kick rule was a terrible idea, for two reasons

1. it gives officials even more control of the game

2. It was clearly an underhanded move by the NFL to try to extend games to add more ad revenue immediately after they signed a new collective bargaining agreement. To me, this is an idea that should have been a negotiating point for the players and the fact that they're trying to slide it in after the fact is not negotiating in faith to me. If I was a player I would be incredibly upset by this proposal, it is akin to your boss negotiating a 9-5 contract only to try to increase overtime hours after the fact