The Patriots have played three games and kicked off 18 times this season, and they’ve still yet to allow an opposing team to take the ball out past the 25 yard line.
So far, Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski has had 10 touchbacks. Of the eight kicks that opposing teams returned, six times the Patriots’ coverage unit tackled the returner inside the 25-yard line, and twice the Patriots’ coverage unit forced and recovered a fumble. In the NFL under the new rule, a good return is any return that gets past the 25-yard line. No Patriots opponent has had a good return yet.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick has been at the forefront of exploiting the new rule moving touchbacks after kickoffs to the 25-yard line. Belichick knows that there’s a benefit to kicking the ball high and short, and Gostkowski executes it well.
“Our kickoff guys are doing a great job. It would be dumb just to kick it out of the end zone every time right now,” Gostkowski told USA Today.
And it was dumb of the NFL to change the rule without thinking through the consequences. Far from reducing the number of kickoff returns, the rule has increased the number of kickoff returns. And when the Patriots are kicking, most of those returns are short.