Tuesday, at the NFL owners meetings, owners approved some changes to league rules. The biggest one was the change that moves the ball on kickoffs to the 35-yard line, which turns the clock back to 1994, when the ball was moved from the 35 to the 30-yard line to add excitement to the game. This time it was moved forward in the name of safety.
First off, I can understand why they changed the rule in theory. Players are charging down the field at full speed. It is different than plays from the line of scrimmage. On kickoffs the coverage team is sprinting 50-60 yards down the field trying to make a play. The collisions can be brutal.
However, just basing things on my memory, I would bet that only a small handful of times have I seen a player get injured on kickoff plays.
But that is not the point I want to make.
There will obviously be an impact on the game of football. Going back in time to when it was 35-yard line before, in 1993, 68 percent of kicks were returned. The next season, moving it to the 30, the percentage went up to 88. We can expect an increase in touchbacks.
How much of an increase? in 2010, there were 409 touchbacks off of kickoffs. That made up less than 17 percent of all kicks. With the rules change, the NFL expects an increase of five to 15 percent, or 20-60 more for the season. In a season where there are 256 regular season games played, that is not a significant statistic.
People speculate whether or not kickoff specialists will be devalued and that the games will be impacted dramatically. Yes, kickoffs are a very exciting part of the game, but please remember that back when it was from the 35-yard line before, there were still great returners.
Can you recall the game changing abilities of Johnny Bailey for the Bears and the Cardinals, or Eric Metcalf for the Browns or David Megget for the Giants? They still electrified fans.
Yes, touchdown returns may be affected. In 2010, there were 23 kickoffs returned for touchdowns. In 1993, there were four. The change in 1994 led to 16 touchdown returns. This may cause a dropoff in actual touchdowns. However, returns will still happen and returners will still be able to break off long returns. They will still be exciting. They might happen a little less.
One statistic I was unable to find was the effect on turnovers in the kicking game. This is the one area that I have seen nothing on. If there are less returns run back, then there will be less opportunities to cause a turnover. It goes both ways.
As for the Cardinals, they voted for the change, despite fact that LaRod Stephens-Howling was seen as their best scoring threat returning kicks. Ken Whisenhunt believes that LSH will still have his opportunities to have big returns. It will just be a couple of yards further back.
So for those of you fearing that players like Josh Cribbs or Leon Washington are going to have less of an impact, think again. Now, a good return man will be worth even more because field position is a little bit harder to get. Elite returners will remain that way.
In other news, no team can have a field that is any other color than green. And here I was hoping for a Cardinal red field.
Also, all scoring plays will be automatically reviewable and will not be able to be challenged. There is nothing negative about this at all.