Touchback rule had little to no impact on injuries on kickoffs

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The NFL changed the rule on touchbacks last year in the hopes that there would be fewer injuries on kickoffs. The first year of data is in, and not much changed.

According to data released by the league today, concussions on kickoffs declined slightly, from 20 in 2015 to 17 in 2016. But hamstring injuries on kickoffs increased from 11 to 13, ACL tears increased from one to four, and MCL tears increased from three to five.

On a conference call examining injury rates in the league, NFL officials said the data will be analyzed in more detail and presented to the Competition Committee, but they acknowledged that it looks more like “a natural fluctuation” than any change that could be attributed to the new touchback rule.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick pointed out during the season that concussions happen even on touchbacks, as players still block because they don’t know whether their returner is taking the ball out of the end zone or not. So even if touchbacks increased significantly, that wouldn’t necessarily mean injuries on kickoffs would decrease significantly.

But touchbacks only increased by about 2 percent in 2016. There was a lot of talk about that rule, but in the end it made very little difference.

37 responses to “Touchback rule had little to no impact on injuries on kickoffs

  1. Of course it didn’t. It was transparent window dressing from the start — meant to make it conspicuously appear as though the League cares about the players.

  2. Cool. Now move the kickoff back to the 30 and the touchback back to the 20. More returns please.

  3. On the plus side, the new touchback rule guaranteed the Jets at least a few 25 yard pickups a season.

  4. “According to data released by the league today, concussions on kickoffs declined slightly, from 20 in 2015 to 17 in 2016. But hamstring injuries on kickoffs increased from 11 to 13, ACL tears increased from one to four, and MCL tears increased from three to five.”
    But commercial breaks increased from 100 to 150. That’s more revenue, which is what really matters to the league.

  5. So, ACL and MCL tears, together, more than doubled and you state that “not much changed”. Tell that to the players who it happened to!

  6. I can’t take these discussions seriously as long as Thursday Night football is still a thing.

  7. Belichick said this was going to happen. Goodell pooh poohed it. Bill was right.

    Bill wanted pylon cameras. Goodell said, “No way!” Then Harbaugh suggested it. Guess what happened?

  8. This is the sort of info the league would have gotten had they tested it out during a preseason or two rather than just blindly implementing the rule in real games. It’s amazing how little research they do on these things–they dream up an idea one day and have it in the rulebook the next.

  9. When Devin Hester was here in Chicago no one walked away from the TV during a kickoff or punt.
    Making kick offs dull and pointless while trying to add some fake drama or excitement to extra points is mindless.
    Return the kickoffs to where they belong and if you find the extra point boring and too easy then do away with it and go to a 2 point conversion after every TD.

  10. I hate to stand up for the clown known as Goodell, but to make one quick point:
    If the players stopped pretending to not know that football is a violent game and suing over every little thing, this crap would not be an issue.
    There was never a single word about changing kickoffs or getting rid of them until the word concussion started being thrown around like the word “and” or “the” in football. While the league has had its fair share of the blame and probably 70% of it, players continuous lawsuits are driving these rule changes more than anything.

  11. Oh wait, the league released data? Well then, must be legit!
    Whenever the league is involved in a conflict of interest, fairness and accuracy go out the window.

  12. dmvdmv101560 says:
    Jan 26, 2017 10:35 AM

    So, ACL and MCL tears, together, more than doubled and you state that “not much changed”. Tell that to the players who it happened to!


    Someone needs a refresher course in basic statistics. Specifically, the chapter on sample sizing…

  13. Turns out the commisioner has already examined the evidence on this and has come to the conclusion that this is further proof that NFL fans love the Thursday night game!

  14. I’m sorry, but how was moving the touchback spot to the 25 supposed to have increased the number of touchbacks?

    What it did was incentivize the place kickers to drop the ball as close to the goal line as possible, so the opponent would run it out and they could try and stop the run back before they made it to the 25. Just spotting the other team on the 25 every kick would be easy enough for most NFL kickers, just drill it through the end zone. But that wouldn’t be too smart from a strategy standpoint.

    If they really wanted to reduce the number of run backs, make the touchback spotted on the 10 yard line, then every kicker would be drilling it.

    That’s not what I want to see, I like the runback play. It’s a big part of the game, concussions or not.

  15. Okay good, so that means they can move touchbacks back to the 20 yard line, right? I’m sure Roger will find a way to mess it up again.

  16. Can we go back to having kickoffs from the 30 and a few more returns each week? The most exciting, game turning play in football and Goodell kills it. Kickers are booming it into the end zone from the 35 all day and the coverage gets there a half second sooner. 5 yards is a big difference on this play. Also, the position of kickoff returner was devalued by this stupid rule.

  17. @fjw2
    Except that you’re wrong..
    1) Not all kickers (by any means) can consistently kick it though the back of the endzone every time. Especially in outdoor conditions against the wind.
    2) Teams with poorer special teams, and especially against teams with very good returners choose to kick it through the end zone every time to simply REMOVE any possibility of a run-back or luck turn of events.

    So, if we saw the stats, I think you’d see that by NO means did EVERY team the majority of the time try to kick the ball at the 1 yard line forcing a returner to bring it out.

  18. If they wanto to limit the number of returns they need to move the touchback point to the 15. Kickers these days have an extraordinary amount of power and control, by moving the touchback point to the 25 the NFL only encourages teams to try to kick short of the goal line and force a short return. If you reward the kicking team with a shorter touchback more teams would try and kick the ball out of the end zone.

  19. Guys constantly brought the ball out of the endzone on kick offs only to be tackled between the 10 and 20 yard lines. The NFL tried to give teams some free yards, but kick returners have enough confidence in themselves that they didn’t take the free yards and the end result change.

  20. The Competition Committee are supposed to canvas coaches and experienced relevant players regards potential rule changes. At least Belichick and Payton, as well as Vinatieri, all said it would not help. So who were the two coaching experts on the committee who either didn’t canvas or thought they knew better – Jeff Fisher and Marvin Lewis.

  21. He scoffed at the reasons Goodell gave for destroying the tapes and notes, particularly about trying to keep them out of competitors’ hands and because Belichick had admitted to the taping.

  22. WASHINGTON — Bill Belichick has been illegally taping opponents’ defensive signals since he became the New England Patriots’ coach in 2000, according to Sen. Arlen Specter, who said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told him that during a meeting Wednesday.

    “There was confirmation that there has been taping since 2000, when Coach Belichick took over,” Specter said.

    Specter said Goodell gave him that information during the 1-hour, 40-minute meeting, which was requested by Specter so the commissioner could explain his reasons for destroying the Spygate tapes and notes.

  23. I’d change the personal foul before kickoff rule. Right now if you have a personal foul on the extra point the kickoff is moved up 15 yards. Since the touchbacks are likely anyway there’s no real punishment for a defensive PF on a PAT.

    It should be half the distance to the goal in the event of a touchback

  24. By Week 1, teams were placing the kicks so they came down between the 10 and the 1, forcing return teams to return the ball. Seems that kicking teams were less willing to accept a 25-yard touchback than a 20-yard touchback. Every change has unanticipated consequences.

  25. I swear they must go into 345 Corrupt Ave every morning and start the daily meeting by saying “How can we make the game worse and ourselves look like idiots” every single day.

    I guess one of the answers last off season was “Hey lets try and eliminate one of the most exciting plays in the game and see if the chumps, I mean fans, buy into it.”

  26. .

    How about talking about how the networks MISS kickoffs due to still being at commercial.

    Kickoffs where the crowd stand and roars as the runner breaks the first initial blockers…
    The rush of the crowd…
    yeah get rid of them to make football better. right.

  27. It seems like every time a runner is stopped, then 5-6 offensive line push the pile forward someone gets hurt. There is one big mass of bodies falling and bending every which way.

  28. NFL officials were obviously influencing teams into taking a knee by flagging just about every single kick return with a penalty–almost always on the return team.

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