Touchback rule hasn’t been a disaster, after all

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There’s been a widespread perception that the NFL’s attempt to reduce kickoff returns by adjusting the touchback point has backfired worse than a 1964 Chevrolet Bel Air with a 327 cubic-inch engine and a four-barrel carburetor having ignition timing other than four degrees top dead center. That perception isn’t reality, after all.

According to the NFL, which reached out to PFT in response to the quote from Saints coach Sean Payton that the change to the kickoff rule has gone over like a “lead balloon,” there actually have been fewer kickoff returns and more touchbacks through eight weeks of 2016, in comparison to the numbers generated through eight weeks of 2015.

In 2015, there were 1,245 kickoffs through eight weeks, with 746 touchbacks (59.9 percent) and 461 returns (37.0 percent). (That leaves 38 other kicks, which includes squib kicks, onside kicks, kickoffs out of bounds, and kicks not from the 35 yard line due to penalty.)

In 2016, there have been 1,246 kickoffs through eight weeks, with 759 touchbacks (60.9 percent) and 452 returns (36.3 percent). (There have been 35 kickoffs that were neither touchbacks nor returned.)

Although the numbers of touchbacks are up slightly and returns down slightly, it’s obvious that some teams have been deliberately kicking off short of the end zone to force returns, in the hopes of tackling the returner inside the new touchback point of the 25. Still, the numbers don’t lie, and if the touchbacks at the conclusion of the year are up and the returns down, even slightly, whoever insisted on proceeding with the change in the touchback point for one year may insist on giving it a try for another year, if not longer.

33 responses to “Touchback rule hasn’t been a disaster, after all

  1. They will incrementally modify the kickoff rules, so that when they decide to eliminate kickoffs, it won’t be a major move that turns a lot of fans away instantly. Just watch. It will happen and fans will say, “Well, it has basically been eliminated, so eliminating it isn’t a big deal anymore.”

  2. I fully understand that you need to maintain a working relationship with the league…but I would LOVE it if each time they reached out this quickly to correct a misconception you nailed them on the 11/12 balls deflated report that was never corrected.

    From an Eagles fan.

  3. “There’s been a widespread perception that the NFL’s attempt to reduce kickoff returns by adjusting the touchback point has backfired”

    I wonder who has created that perception? Perhaps, this very website?!

  4. You are correct that numbers don’t lie. But data can be manipulated to say what ever you want it to say when you limit the data to serve your purpose.

    You are comparing data from one year to the next. This does NOT denote a trend. Also the data shows a very minor difference in the numbers. How about you show numbers from the previous 5 years to illustrate what a normal variance in the number of KO returns would normally be from year to year, and then compare that variance to the reduction you noted above for 2016?

    I’m willing to bet that the number of KO returns in 2016 thus far is well within the range of KO returns we see any other year.

  5. Yeah, I just love seeing three minutes of commercials after a score, followed by a kickoff resulting in a touch-back, and another three minutes of commercials.

    And the league wonders why ratings are slipping.

  6. How about if the ball makes it in the end zone it is an automatic touch back and ball is placed on 20 yard line? If teams want to kick short or onside they can.

  7. Sorry, I don’t trust any figures the NFL puts out unless verified by a neutral 3rd party.

  8. dmartin17 says:
    Nov 2, 2016 4:08 PM
    Wait, if it was a good rule, shouldn’t this year’s number be WAY ahead of last year? A virtual dead heat is a failure.
    ____________________

    If you have been following Florio’s weekly coverage of the kickoff rule, you should remember that the first few weeks of this season yielded far more kickoff returns as compared to last year. Over the past few weeks, teams have been returning the ball much less, which puts us approximately dead even with last year. By the end of the year, total kickoff returns should be much fewer than last year.

  9. Besides not comparing data accurately, you are leaving out a ton of data.

    Data such as; how many games were played in each season over that time period? More teams on bye week means less games played means less kickoffs. 2015 had 18 teams on bye week through 8 weeks, 2016 had 16 … meaning one less game was played thus far in 2016 compared to 2015 … meaning less kickoffs.

    Data such as; is scoring up or down over the same period? Less scoring means less kickoffs.

    Data such as; how many games went into overtime over that same time period? More OT periods means more kickoffs.

  10. I first read it 59.9 2015 and 69.0 percent in 2016. I was very impressed.

    Then I looked again and the 69.0 was actually 60.9,- which is basically the same as the year before.

    The big question is if the numbers and types of injuries have changed. Since that was the point of the change in the first place.

  11. The disaster is that they moved the kickoffs to the 35 in the first place. Was there ever evidence to show that reducing the number of kickoffs reduced the number of head/neck injuries? There is definitely evidence that it has reduced the number of exciting plays.

  12. Is that what they were hoping for with this rule change? 0.7% fewer returns? I bet not. Seems like a fail to me. I wish we could just put everything back to the way it was, including kick-offs to the 30 yard line.

  13. blkandgld4eva says:
    Nov 2, 2016 4:33 PM

    The disaster is that they moved the kickoffs to the 35 in the first place. Was there ever evidence to show that reducing the number of kickoffs reduced the number of head/neck injuries? There is definitely evidence that it has reduced the number of exciting plays.

    ————————————-

    also definitely evidence that it has helped to reduce ratings!

  14. When your moneymaker, ratings, are out of whack 15% or more, things come into perspective.

  15. They could virtually eliminate kick off returns all together if they made touchbacks come out to the 15.

    Gotta incentivize the right people to get the meaningful change you want.

  16. “backfired worse than a 1964 Chevrolet Bel Air with a 327 cubic-inch engine and a four-barrel carburetor having ignition timing other than four degrees top dead center”

    ***************************************************

    Of course!! It HAS to be 3 degrees top dead center to run!! What a bunch of idiots to think the other!

  17. Regardless of the original intent, I like the rule because it allows teams more choices, and therefore strategy. Do I kick a little short and go for the quick tackle, which risks a big return? Do I play it safe and give them the 25 yard line? Etc.

  18. Know what numbers I would love to have?

    How many commercials have been shown during games compared to 5 or 10 years ago

    Admittedly, virtually everything I watch is streamed with zero commercials

    So maybe I am hyper-sensitive

    But the bombardment of ads – which slows the flow/pace – literally wears me out

    By the end of the 4:00 game on sunday – if I make it that far – I’ve had it

    The penalties have nothing to do with it for me

    Neither does Colin Kaepernick

    I know it’s a tv show – I get it

    But there is a limit to everything

  19. drcap says:
    Nov 2, 2016 4:08 PM
    Four degrees before top dead center…
    =========================
    Wow, I’m impressed. Either someone who knows their movie dialogue very well or someone who has set their ignition advance before. Good catch.

  20. All I know is that my team (Titans) has been so bad on special teams this year….I thank my lucky stars every time there’s a touchback or fair catch.

  21. The touchback rule was designed MAKE teams accept the 25 yard line rather than run it out of the end-zone.

    Ever notice that just about every attempt at running it ends in a penalty for the receiving team?

  22. A 1% difference in something that probably varies by 3 or 4% annually is no difference at all. So the change actually HAS failed.

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