Easy with the new NFL kick-off rule judgements

As most National Football League (NFL) fans know, there is a new kickoff rule change implemented for the 2011-12 season. To try to reduce some of the more serious head-on collision type injuries in the NFL, league officials have decided to move up kickoffs to the 35-yard line. This has created some controversy within the NFL.

So after the second or third week of preseason, some coaches, players and media members are complaining loudly about the rule change. Many coaches and analysts think kickers will automatically “boom the ball” to force the receiving team into a touchback. If this occurs, some coaches and some media members are suggesting NFL games may be a little less exciting with fewer returned kickoffs.

Image from Sports.barstoolsports.com

Who really knows what will happen with this new rule change? Perhaps it will have an adverse effect on the game where there will be fewer kickoff returns and attempts. Will kickers have a larger role in the game or not? Will teams try to kick it “high” near the goal line and force the return team to receive the football in the hopes of pinning them down in their own end? Will another strategy involve special teams’ coaches “squib kicking” the football, trying to minimize the opponent’s field position? I’m sure you’ll also get your fair share of kickers “booting” the football out of the end zone. The key thing to realize is that different teams will employ different strategies depending on a number of things — it’s almost impossible to use the preseason as a barometer to determine the full effect of the new rule change.

One aspect of this new rule change I have not heard discussed is how the weather will affect things — in snowy or windy conditions, how will special teams change their strategy? Will kickers be less inclined to “boom the ball” attempting to receive a “touchback” in inclement weather? Perhaps we’ll need to wait for November and December football to see any strategy changes during inclement weather.

It’s interesting that I have not heard any announcers during the NFL preseason mention another by-product of moving the kickoffs to the 35-yard line — there may be fewer penalties called during the kickoff. Over the last 5 years or more, there has been an increase in the amount of “block in the back” or “holding” penalties committed by the receiving team. The increased amount of these penalties over the last few years has taken much of the luster away from the kickoff — theoretically, and according to conventional wisdom, if you have more touchbacks, you’ll see fewer penalties.

Again, too early to tell. I think it’s silly for some players, coaches and media members to complain about this new rule change after just a few preseason games. Let’s take a deep breath and see how it plays out. Let’s also realize it’s preseason and the strategies employed may not directly transfer to the regular season. Who knows, it might just be an effective rule change that helps reduce violent collisions and adds another strategic element to the game.

Will I be in the minority of fans who will not have an opinion of this new rule change, withhold judgment, and at least let things play out. At least for 8 to 10 games before I can objectively assess the effects of moving the kickoff up to the 35-yard line.


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