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.