Will NFL tell teams to kick away?

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In an effort to make the “most dangerous play” in the game safer, the NFL wants to reduce the number of kickoff returns. This year, the NFL adopted yet another rule change aimed at reducing the number of kickoff returns.

The problem, of course, is that the rule moving the touchback on kickoffs from the 20 to the 25 could actually increase the number of kickoff returns, as teams deliberately try to kick the ball short of the end zone in the hopes of pinning the opponent inside its own 25. For now, few teams have revealed their plans for adjusting to the change. Recent comments from Patriots special-teams captain Matthew Slater suggest that his team, and others, will try to avoid handing offenses an extra five yards at the outset of a given drive.

The item from MDS regarding the conference call that NFL V.P. of officiating Dean Blandino conducted with all 32 special-teams coordinators, ostensibly to collect information regarding more ways to make the kickoff return safer, activated my personal “things may not always be what they seem” meter, which more commonly is known by the use of the second and 19th letters of the alphabet.

Was the conference call part of an effort to make it known to teams that they will be expected to kick the ball off as they ordinarily would, banging it through the end zone or deep enough into it that the return team will have to decide whether to take the ball at the 25 or run it out? Even if there has been and/or will be no arm twisting, the mere purpose of Blandino’s call — i.e., looking for ways to make the kickoff return safer — already sends a clear message as to the preferences of 345 Park Avenue.

Will less subtle means eventually be used to let teams know that they’ll be expected to kick away?

The story line has the potential to become a very important one as the season unfolds, with the league office working behind the scenes to persuade teams deliberately kicking the ball short, and in turn triggering more kickoff returns, to stop doing it — and with the league office also working to persuade teams that reluctantly are complying with the desire to make the kickoff return safer to continue to kick away even though some other teams aren’t.

Ultimately, there could be tension within a given franchise, with ownership pushing the coaching staff to kick away and the coaching staff resisting, perhaps with passive-aggressive means like claiming that they’re trying to kick away but the kicker simply isn’t getting the ball as deep as the coaching staff would like him to.

However it plays out, it’s hard to imagine the NFL encouraging any team to adapt to a rule change aimed at reducing the number of kickoff returns by strategically embracing more of them. Blandino’s conference call may have been the first tangible step toward getting the word out that the league office wants to see kicked footballs sailing past the goal line on a regular basis.

20 responses to “Will NFL tell teams to kick away?

  1. Matt Slater said we can’t give away 5 yards! That makes it more probable than not that the Patriots are disregarding an implied rule (Memo), loss of another first round pick, Slater suspended and throw 2 more games at Brady because I am sure he is aware of this and maybe even texted someone about it…..

  2. Aren’t these guys already running and blocking and hitting before they know if the ball is going to be in play or not?

  3. If I were the Patriots and other teams that have been fined or lost draft picks over stupid stuff, I would start negotiating!

  4. Everything that involves the league office, particularly Bahgdad Blandino makes my personal bs meter go off.
    When the rule change was announced most of the comments here reflected the opinion that it would of course lead to more returns not less. Why it didn’t occur to the lords of 345 Park Ave says volumes about how detached they are from the actual game on the field. Behind the scenes arm twisting is no way to implement a change and if attempted should be fought by coaches tooth and nail, that is far too slippery a slope. There should be no unwritten rules a la Stern’s NBA.

    Because of the importance of the onside kick to late game drama (ratings) they aren’t going to do away with kickoff returns all together.

  5. Of course corrupt Goodell and his cronies are trying to secretly manipulate this.

  6. Just go ahead and eliminate the kick off now. It will be gone in 5 years while the league decides how to make it safer. Even kicking it away can be dangerous.

  7. This is what happens when you rush to change the rules before thinking through all options.

    My guess is they push the touchback to the 21.75 yard line – then the league can proudly stick out their chests.

  8. Is it really the most dangerous play? The most violent probably, but its not like someone is getting carted away on kickoff every game.

    I have a hard time imaginng what this game look like in 20 years.

  9. Go back to the old way, they get payed a ton of money. If your against it or afraid, don’t play, problem solved

  10. Its becoming more of a ( For entertainment purposes only ) League faster then I ever thought it would. It’s disgusting ……From the blatant agenda calls/no calls during games by the Ref’s to the lack of unbiased announcers of games who’s only job is to protect the shield at all costs instead of actually calling the game as seen it is a travesty with ramifications yet realized. The NFL is a shell of what it used to be ………I have actually turned of the volume on more games the past 2 years then the 25 years prior………I hope it can be fixed but hold out little hope that it will……….

  11. This new rule aimed at averting injuries on kickoffs may end up creating a new fan spectacle of line drive squib kicks designed to force the receiving team to field the ball before it can die within the 10, and lead to a spate of contested balls bouncing off the receiving team’s hands. It’s very smart, bringing back some excitement to the kickoff while reducing injuries.

  12. So that means they changed the rule without asking for input from those who are in charge of the special teams.

    I would have thought doing that before changing the rule might have been a good idea.

  13. Who gets hurt on kickoff returns?

    The front office is full of too many people making decisions who either have never actually played or coached, or are too far removed from the game.

    It’s like politicians who have never held a job in the private sector, making decisions that affect businesses and workers, who don’t understand – and don’t ask – about the consequences of turning their theories into policy.

  14. As soon as I heard of this proposed rule change I knew that teams would try to pop the ball up and make the kickoff more like a punt. The fact that this didn’t cross anyone’s mind in the NFL offices just shows you the level up incompetence we’re dealing with.

  15. bpearse230 says:
    Jun 21, 2016 8:59 AM
    As soon as I heard of this proposed rule change I knew that teams would try to pop the ball up and make the kickoff more like a punt. The fact that this didn’t cross anyone’s mind in the NFL offices just shows you the level up incompetence we’re dealing with.

    The rule should have been:

    If the ball is fielded in the endzone but downed by the returner, the ball comes out to the 25.

    If the ball is kicked out of the back of the endzone, the drive starts at the 15.

    That way the rule would incentivize both the kicking team and the return team.

  16. That sound you are hearing is a hundred D3 kickers with noodle legs celebrating their new opportunity to play in the NFL.

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