By now, everyone has probably heard that the new NFL kickoff rules have passed. The next time that the NFL actually exists, the football will be kicked off from the 35 yard line...again. Players on the kicking team will not be allowed to stand further than 5 yards from the ball. This in theory will shorten the field and not allow these players to have as much momentum, when making initial contact.
The last time that teams kicked off from the 35 yard line was 1993 and there were only 4 kickoffs returned for touchdowns. Last season, the ball was kicked off from the 30 and there were 23 kickoffs returned for touchdowns. It's obvious this new rule changes the game on special teams and that's what everyone has been focused on. But, let's dig a little deeper….
Joshua Cribbs, Devin Hester, Brad Smith, and Jacoby Ford, to name a few, have been getting plenty of phone calls for interviews since this rule has passed. These players are frustrated. They believe that teams will just boot the ball out of the endzone, forcing touchbacks. I believe touchbacks will go up but I don't think that'll be the main strategy.
Field position is what coaches talk about before, during, and after every game. These same coaches / owners that approved moving the kickoff up, also moved to turn down the option to move the touchback spot up to the 25 yard line. This reiterates how strongly they feel about field position.
The new rules adds more values to the phrase, defense wins championships. Teams with a strong defense and a quarterback that protects the ball will be mostly helped by this new rule. Teams with a strong return game and a turnover happy quarterback will be devastated by the new kickoff rules. The reason is simply that kickers now can manipulate the ball with more air under it and the gunners have 5 less yards to run to get to the kick returner. Kickoff returners could be fielding the ball at the 10 to 15 yards line with defenders draped all over them. Also, returners will get the itch to return a ball that lands 7 to 8 yards deep in the endzone. Between these two downfalls to the rule change, the starting position for the offense will put quarterbacks under the stress of having the endzone on their heels.
A quarterback that struggles with turnovers will have the thought of a pick-6, fumble for a touchdown, or a safety in the back of their mind. My prediction is that defensive scoring will be at an all time high in 2011. Let's look at a team that will be most positively affected by the rule change and one that suffers the most from it.
San Diego Chargers
The Chargers were right at the top of all of the offensive and defensive categories in 2010 but were one of the worst in special teams. They also have a veteran in Philip Rivers at quarterback that knows how to protect the ball when he's in a tough spot. These new rules will vault the Chargers to the premier team in the AFC and could get them to the Super Bowl.
Perhaps no other team in the NFL has had as many momentum switches lately from a return, than the Bears. Devin Hester is a household name because of his return ability. He also had one of the most electrifying moments in Super Bowl history when he returned the kickoff for a touchdown. Chicago also has the quarterback that is most known for bad turnovers. Jay Cutler makes bad decisions in the most crucial moments. If Cutler is continually starting inside his own 20, then it won't be of matter of if but when and how often he'll make a ‘bad’ game changing decision. This one rule change will take a team that was on the verge of the Super Bowl and put them out of playoff contention.
Just a little reminder of what would have been missed if the rule wasn't changed for the 1994 season. In 1996, Desmond Howard became the only special teams player to win the Super Bowl MVP. After the Patriots closed the gap in the game they kicked off to Howard and he crushed the Patriots hopes of winning Super Bowl XXXI by returning the kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. Not only would we have been cheated out of that moment, but we would never known how good Dante Hall, Josh Cribbs, and Devin Hester were at changing a game.
They say this rule is for player’s safety, but it's speculated that the owners are only trying to cut down on special teams injuries to make it easier to move to an 18 game regular season. Any time you water down a sport to how turn a bigger profit, it's always recognized by true fans. In the same manner that the players came out before the games in 2010 with one finger raised in the air, to show unity against management, the fans need to stand in unity during every kickoff with one finger raised (the Bud Adams one) to rebut this business decision.
Jayson Braddock is an NFL Scout / NFL Writer & On-Air Personality. Jayson is also a football insider for the Dylan Gwinn show on 790 AM in Houston, TX - Listeners NOT in the Houston metropolitan area can hear Jayson on iheart radio or sports7910.com. You may email Jayson directly @ email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @ JaysonBraddock
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