It’s with safety in mind that the NFL’s Competition Committee has recommended rule changes that could have a sweeping effect on kickoffs and returns.
The National Football Post’s Matt Bowen weighed in on the issue already, looking at all sides of the proposal to move kickoffs from the 30- to the 35-yard line. The NFL wants to reduce injuries from the violent collisions that happen on kickoffs. But as long as there are kickoffs, there are going to be injuries in kickoffs.
“The Competition Committee was certainly unanimous on this,” Competition Committee chairman Rich McKay said. “I don't ever speak for counting votes. I know this: The play is such and the injury data is such and the video is such that it needs revision. That will certainly be the message we will try to send. I also know that coaches can be sometimes resistant to change. This is a change that we think needs to happen.”
What the Competition Committee didn’t mention is how much this proposed change – moving kickoffs up five yards – will serve to wipe out returns. The number of touchbacks has been on a steady rise and there were 416 in 2010, twice as many as in 2004. Baltimore’s Billy Cundiff tied the NFL record with 40 touchbacks. How many does he have kicking off from the 35? Here is what the stats show for the entire league:
It would seem the proposed changes, which include the elimination of blocking wedges, help poor special teams units and punish the good ones. The changes also call for players to not get more than a five-yard running start before the kickoff from the kickoff line. Touchbacks would begin at the 25-yard line, not the 20 where it has traditionally been.
Ultimately, the league needs to answer whether or not these proposed changes will significantly reduce injuries or significantly damage the product. Kickers are getting stronger and the data proves that. Under the propsed changes, we could see touchbacks on more than one-third of the kickoffs. McKay said last season the average kickoff came down at the 5.5-yard line. Push it forward five yards and the average kickoff is coming down just shy of the goalline. Plenty of them are sailing out of the end zone.
Who buys a ticket to see a touchback?
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Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune