A closer look at the onside kick alternative

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At next week’s owners’ meeting, the NFL will consider an alternative to the onside kick that would allow teams that score a touchdown or field goal — or teams that give up a safety — in the fourth quarter to elect not to kick off and instead line up their offense for a fourth-and-15 play from the 35-yard line. If they get to the 50, they keep the ball.

The rule has been proposed because last year’s changes to the kickoff made onside kicks harder to recover successfully. Picking up a fourth-and-15 isn’t easy to do either, but some teams may think it’s easier than recovering an onside kick.

Teams will only be permitted to try the fourth-and-15 once a game, and only in the fourth quarter, so we won’t see a team trying it in a surprising situation early in a game. Teams may not punt on the play.

Here’s the full text of the proposed new rule:

A team may elect once per game during the fourth period to play offense instead of a kickoff or safety kick. The following rules will apply if such an election is made:

(1) The kicking team must notify the referee of its intention to forego a kickoff or safety kick for one offensive play. The referee will then notify the team that would otherwise be receiving the kickoff or safety kick.

(2) The ball will be spotted on the kicking team’s restraining line and the kicking team will have one scrimmage down on offense to gain 15 yards (4th and 15) to the line to gain. The sideline chain unit will be placed five yards ahead of A’s restraining line and the first down marker will be placed 15 yards from A’s restraining line (40 yard-line to the 50-yard line on a normal kickoff play when the restraining line is the 35-yard line).

(3) Play clock will be set to 25 seconds and winds on the ready for play signal. Game clock starts on the snap, and normal NFL timing rules apply.

(4) Standard scrimmage play rules apply.

(5) If the offense reaches the line to gain, the offense retains possession of the ball and the customary rules are in effect. If the defense stops the offense, the defense assumes possession at the resulting yard line of the play.

(6) If the offense is penalized on the one scrimmage down (4th and 15), the offense cannot elect to then kickoff after the penalty is enforced. Example: the kicking team may not elect to kick after incurring a holding penalty on the one scrimmage down.

(7) Scrimmage kicks are prohibited.

(8) Nothing in this exception prohibits a team from attempting a legal onside kickoff under Rule 6.

40 responses to “A closer look at the onside kick alternative

  1. I personally like this rule. I think more teams will elect this option. Offenses are better geared for this and will be a more dramatic end to the game.

  2. If it’s once per game, why mandate the fourth quarter? Similar to the hockey timeout, a team may not risk it early knowing they may need it later.

  3. It also doesn’t mention if this play can be a legal scoring play or not. I would imagine the line to gain becomes in essence “a goal line” and once the plane is broken, the play is dead. We can’t have teams using this as a hail Mary.

  4. Just go back to original rule for an onside kick. I think there was only one successful attempt (Bears). A successful onside kick adds a lot of fun to the NFL no fun league.

  5. IF this were approved it would have to be as an untimed down. Say you score with 3 seconds left in a 1 point game. You’d just scramble and kneel rather than kick off…

  6. Just another stupid idea to further ruin the game we all loved. What’s next?? I don’t care at this point because when TB-12 retires…….so do I.

  7. Like it and actually feel it adds more excitement to 4 the quarter strategies and comeback chances. Hopefully this gets passed!

  8. How often will that 4th and 15 get converted via pass interference? The way NFL officials call games, my guess would be often.

  9. This is a horrible rule. It is contrived to give a team that’s losing an artificial chance to get back in the game. Makes a mockery of the game. The onside kick evolved to be used the way it is as a result of already existing rules in place surrounding the kickoff independent of the onside kick.

  10. I don’t like this at all.
    The beauty of fake punks and onsides kicks is they are unexpected, unless its towards the end of the game. This rule favors teams with good passing offenses, and puts other teams at a disadvantage. It also further devalues special teams.

    Look to make the kick off safer – such as converting it into some kind of punt as proposed by Mike Westhoff and Greg Schiano.

  11. There is no debate whether 4th-and-15 would be easier to convert than an onside kick; it’s a simple fact. Pro Football Reference’s great Play Index tool allows you to find the results of all sorts of plays, and according to their tool teams have converted on 4th-and-15 26.4% of the time from 2010 to 2018 (53 such plays, a pretty solid sampling). So this discussion can and should be conducted with the understanding that 4th-and-15 would succeed a good quarter of the time for the team giving it a try.

  12. One major problem, in my opinion, is how often defensive pass interference is called. That would give an automatic first down on 4th down play. The onside kick is less likely to be penalized resulting in the kicking team keeping the ball. The probability percentage maybe the same between the two at first glance, but when factoring in how often defensive pass interference is called, that has to up the percentage for the proposed rule. I guess i’m one who likes to keep the game as it is.

  13. I am OK with the concept but 15 yards is too short. It should be 25 but I could compromise at 20. The defensive holding automatic 1st down should not apply either.

  14. Why change the rules at the end of the game to help a team that is losing? Team A is winning 27-14 with five minutes to go. Team B plods down the field, using their time outs. Team A not getting penalized, keeping the ball in play and taking time off the clock. Team B scores with 30 seconds left. AND THEN GETS THE BALL BACK? When the defense is tired? When a penalty on a long pass can lose them the game? What the hell are they thinking? Team B makes the pass, and has the ball on the 50 with plenty of time to run three more plays, or more. Serious stupid idea. If you HAVE to do this, then the ball should be spotted on the 10, and it should be 4th and 25. But no, this is just dumb.

  15. I don’t see it stating anywhere that a team can’t still do a normal surprise onside kick earlier in the game. They will have the opportunity to use this play once but could still do a normal onside kick if they want to, right? However, I agree w many others….please, stop changing the rules.

  16. The NFL needs to take a lesson from Nascar. Nascar kept changing what was successful and now they cant get the statiums to even 25% capacity. They have a hard time getting people to even tune the races on television. Their answer? More changes against what people enjoyed. Nascar changed to appeal to what they believed younger fans wanted to see. The NFL is doing the exact same thing. They apparently do not realize people watch sports for the tradition of the sports. Sports are popular because people grow up watching. When Dads/Moms don’t tune in or go to events, they don’t watch events with their kids and kids don’t get exposed to the sports. You are losing generations of viewers because of that.

  17. This is all so stupid. Keep the onside kickoff as an option whenever a team wants to try it. The success rate is much, much lower than a 4th and 15 will be.

    We know this because any defensive penalty besides an offsides or too many men on the field = automatic first down. I bet the success percentage goes up to above 50% based almost exclusively on penalties.

  18. in todays nfl i think 4th and 15 is too easy. it should be more like 4th and 25. recovering an onside kick is very hard and unlikely. 4th and 15 is like 50/50 at least if it’s brady playing the chiefs last year.

  19. Hate this rule. Just allow the onside kick to go back to old rule. Or if you have to do this make it 4th and 15 from your own 20…not 35

  20. This will be MUCH easier for teams to convert than an Onside kick, especially when you’ve got a top-level NFL quarterback throwing to skilled receivers. If they’re going to do this, then the distance required to gain should be at least 20 yards, not 15.

  21. The change in kickoff rules makes recovering an onside kick even harder.
    This rule would keep the game exciting for both the team with the lead and team losing.
    It could lead to some crazy finishes. Is it fair to the team in the lead? Probably not. But the NFL is about ratings not fairness.

  22. I would want the rule to include that all normal penalties that would result in an “automatic first down” would be reduced to the amount of yardage they would otherwise have, and a subsequent offensive play from the end of the play plus the penalty. Too easy to get a first down on a lousy pass defensive holding play 6 yards down the field.

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