The NFL moved the spot following a touchback to the 25-yard line this year, thinking that more kickoff returners will keep the ball in the end zone, and fewer returns will mean fewer injuries. Patriots coach Bill Belichick doesn’t buy it.
Belichick pointed out that the coverage players running full-speed down the field don’t know whether the returner is going to take it out of the end zone or not, and the blockers running into those coverage players don’t know, either. That means there are still plenty of hits that can result in injuries, even on touchbacks.
One such hit took place last week, when Denver’s Kayvon Webster suffered a season-ending concussion in a collision with Kansas City’s Terrance Smith on a kickoff that stayed in the end zone.
“I’d say last week was a good example, though, of some of the different proponents of ‘we want more touchbacks,'” Belichick said. “We saw a pretty big concussed play with a touchback. Part of the touchback is, ‘Well, we think it’s a touchback so everybody’s not playing the same speed. Because we think it’s a touchback, it’s going to be a no play.’ But then, as a coverage team, you don’t know for sure the guy isn’t coming out or not so you’re playing it at full speed. So some of the concussions and some of the injuries look to me like they come on touchbacks. If we want more touchbacks, is that really solving the problem here as it’s been presented by the Competition Committee? You know how I feel about it. We’ll see how smart some of that has really been to address the problems that we think are being addressed.”
Belichick said football is already a great sport and doesn’t need people constantly tinkering with the rules.
“It seems like, football, we got a pretty good game here,” Belichick said. “Been that way for a long time. Seems like the kicking game has been a great part of our game. But I guess we have a lot of people who feel like the game needs to be changed.”
It wouldn’t be surprising to see the NFL make still more changes to kickoffs this offseason. And Belichick won’t be happy with it.