NFL has killed the onside kick

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There was a time when, if your team was down two scores at the two-minute warning, you still figured you had a chance: Get a score, recover the onside kick, score again. That time is over.

That’s because recovering the onside kick is not a realistic possibility, thanks to the rule changes that the NFL made to kickoffs.

This year, teams are 0-for-16 on onside kicks. Now that the kicking team is required to stand one yard behind the line, and not get a running start until the ball is kicked, it’s simply not feasible for players on the kicking team to get into position to recover the ball 10 yards downfield.

As demonstrated by the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, which track player through chips worn on their shoulder pads, kicking team players can’t get into position to recover an onside kick without a running start. It’s still technically possible to recover an onside kick if a player on the receiving team bobbles it badly enough, but realistically, it’s hardly ever going to happen.

Asking the NFL to change its kickoff rules to make onside kicks easier to recover is probably unrealistic. Under the old rules, onside kick recoveries often involved high-speed collisions, with members of the kicking team drilling members of receiving team while they were trying to grab the ball. The league doesn’t want more high-speed collisions on kickoffs. That’s why the rules changed.

Which means the league needs to find an alternative to onside kicks. Perhaps something like the Alliance of American Football tried, where a team could choose to put its offense back on the field with a fourth-and-12 from its 28-yard line, meaning if the offense could pick up 12 yards, that team could keep the ball.

Or perhaps the NFL could make keeping the ball part of the conversion attempt after a touchdown: Allow teams to “go for two plus the ball” by lining up from the 15-yard line (the kicking extra point distance) and trying to run or pass the ball into the end zone. Score from the 15, and the team not only gets two points but also gets the ball back for the next possession, rather than having to kick off.

Whatever it does, the league should try something. When teams are 0-for-the season on onside kicks, that should raise eyebrows in the league office that one of the most exciting situations in football — a team coming back from two scores down late in the game — has gone extinct.

63 responses to “NFL has killed the onside kick

  1. Player safety is worth it. Eliminate the onside kick and let teams try other means, like pooch kicks to forward blockers.

  2. The NFL is Walmart football now. Change all rules back to around 1999 (except for the tuck rule) and the game would be perfect, again.

  3. Goodell has ruined the NFL by cheating/trying to manipulate the outcomes of games while pandering to The Trophy Generation with rule changes to favor offenses.

    The fear of lawsuits and over-legislating the sport has also helped slow ratings.

  4. What about just changing the required distance the ball has to travel to 8 yards ? That way you can still have the traditional onside kicks, but the collisions will occur at lower speeds

  5. When I played kicker in high school in college I spent a long time trying to make onside kicks work. I practiced pinching and lobbing the ball (like a soccer or rugby move with the tip of the toe) upwards instead of smacking against the ground and that gives your team a bit more time to cross the line. Maybe just half a second to a second more but at the professional level that’s a long time. Granted I didn’t half an ounce of the talent that these guys do but I’ve often wondered why coaches don’t try a different strategy instead of smacking against the ground and hoping the bounce goes the right away. Just doesn’t seem like it has a high probability of working.

  6. Article would make sense if Demaryius Thomas hadn’t nearly botched the insides kick away yesterday. It hit him in the chest and bounced right off. The other team was inches from recovering it but he barely scooped it back up in time.

  7. What is becoming really evident is that the NFL is slowly removing all variables from the game, in order to gain control of most of the game action. I don’t recall seeing so many game changing calls by refs at the end of games. During the game, sure but the last two minutes have always been a time that refs swallow the whistle and stay out of the way unless something egregious occurs.

  8. NFL has killed ALL kicking plays. I defy you to watch a game where a non-fair catch kick or punt play doesn’t involve a flag.

  9. I still don’t understand why the NFL thinks a flag on every other play makes for a good product. Then again, ratings are still up so there’s no incentive to care.

  10. Given the state of pass interference calls at the end of games, having the two alternative opportunities would be ludicrous. On-side kicks should be next to impossible to recover, its a desperation gadget play and should not be a factor in more than a game or two per season. If your losing by two scores with two minutes left, there’s a reason for that…the other team is better on that particular day.

  11. I get the player safety thing. But shoot, every once in a while somebody has to get hit, I’m for reverting back to the old onside kicks. No doubt it’s dangerous, evidenced by the onside kick I seen last night in the Chargers, Steelers game, dude for the Steelers got jacked up, he got hit hard in the air by a couple guys and ended up landing on his head but thankfully he got up.

  12. The 2 point Plus idea isn’t bad and doesn’t put the players at risk (onside kick, kickoff)… but where to place the ball would be a major argument. I would think their own 5 yd. or 10 yd. line would be satisfactory… forcing them to go 50+ yards to get into FG range. Do NOT like the idea of only needing 30 or 35 yds… that’s too easy.

  13. I’m glad they changed this rule. It makes it harder to steal a game you had no business winning. Play better during the rest of the game and you won’t have to worry about recovering an onside kick to win it.

  14. They announced during the Cowboys game that only 6% of onsides kicks had worked since the rule change. It was around 10% the old way. Curious what fans think would be an ideal. You want it to still be a longshot, desperation sort of deal but not so crazy hard it NEVER works. Some of the ideas floated (like completing a 15 yard pass which I’ve seen suggested) sound WAY too easy.

  15. The NFL might agree with this silly idea. It will let the refs give more opportunities to throw flags on the “4 and 12” play to allow the offense to keep playing.

    Why a non-running start on the kick-off is considered safer boggles my mind.
    First, most kick offs are now in the end zone with no run back.

    Second, the kick off team is still going full steam regardless of when they are allowed to run. They are likely going full steam by 10 yards, which means the 45 yard line. Waiting does nothing about slowing down the full steam argument. They are going full steam whether they wait or not for the ball to be kicked. Just silly.

  16. Good, it shouldn’t be easy at all to just get the ball right back. Teams could always display that sense of urgency earlier in the game so they aren’t in that predicament to begin with.

  17. Finding an equivalent to an onside kick would be difficult. A 4th and 12 play would be way too easy. If given the choice between an onside kick or a 4th and 12, everyone would always pick the latter. Anything less than a hail mary would be preferable to an onside kick, really. A better option would be to shorten the minimum distance the ball needs to travel or a more fun option would be to cut the number of players on the field for each team.

  18. sportoficionado says:
    October 14, 2019 at 10:57 am
    What is becoming really evident is that the NFL is slowly removing all variables from the game, in order to gain control of most of the game action. I don’t recall seeing so many game changing calls by refs at the end of games. During the game, sure but the last two minutes have always been a time that refs swallow the whistle and stay out of the way unless something egregious occurs.

    ——

    I have to disagree about the two minute refs swallowing the whistle argument. When a “superstar” quarterback is loosing the refs will throw tons of flags to help them out. We watched it over the years with Brady, Manning, Wilson, Brees, Rogers, Roethlisberger and a few others. Defensive PI until they score because they’re “superstars”

  19. This isn’t really that hard to fix. Just make the kicking team declare they are doing an onsides kick (they already do this by lining up in formation and it’s similar to a lineman reporting as eligible) and the only requirement is the ball has to travel 5 yards before being touched by the kicking team. You keep the same “no running start” rule for the kicking team and the receiving team lines up as normal.

    Now, you don’t have kickers trying to lob it over their defenders (which is almost impossible to get right) and it gives the kicking team a better chance at recovering. And us fans benefit because you have a scramble for the football and it becomes an instantly exciting play.

  20. As with every rule change, teams will figure out an onside kick strategy that gives them a chance eventually. No more gimmicky rule changes please.

  21. No way you should give them a chance with 4th down and 12 that is to easy. Should be more like 4th and 30. The odds of converting should be very low like they were with the onside kick.

  22. The “No Fun League” has simply become unwatchable…….

    Why did they have to hire all the refs away from the WWE?…….

  23. Reduce the distance the ball has to travel from 10 to 8 yards,and move the kickoff forward to the 37, so a solid line will still delineate the distance. Don’t throw out the play.

  24. I may be wrong, but don’t teams have an option for a drop kick on a kickoff? With the skill some of these youtube trick shot kickers have, there has to be someone out there that could do a drop kick, put the ball straight up into the air, giving the team enough time to get under it.

  25. Since the new forced kickoff alignment has killed the onside kick there needs to be some way to comeback in the late stages of the game.
    Yes, onside kicks are safer now, but never converting them makes them pointless.

    Whatever it is, how low the odds are of success, having some change at getting the ball and extending the comeback attempt is better than no chance.

    Close games shouldn’t be over just because of a rule change like kickoff team alignment.

  26. If the onside kick rule was changed because the NFL doesn’t want collisions then why are all the players wearing equipment to protect against collisions? Remove the helmets and you remove EVERY intentional instance of leading with the helmet, spearing, etc. Players are given top of the line equipment so they feel invincible. Just watch the tackling in any game. Gone are the times of routine form tackles. Instead they have been replaced by players throwing themselves at each other like bowling balls trying to knock down a pin. It is ridiculous how many tackles are made with the back of a shoulder.

    Just giving the offense the ball back is a dumb idea even if it is essentially 4th and long. 2 and the ball PATs are also absurd half-measures to try and fix a problem they intentionally created. Why would the league make it easier for teams to screw up the carefully massaged outcomes of certain games? Safety is almost always the NFL’s excuse for weird rule changes because it is unassailable to the non-thinkers. “How can you go against safety? If just one player is saved from injury…” Half the defense of the rule change is already done.

    Reset the game back to the 90s and try not to screw it up with shallow thinking this time.

  27. rogerdodger99 says:

    October 14, 2019 at 10:54 am

    When I played kicker in high school in college I spent a long time trying to make onside kicks work. I practiced pinching and lobbing the ball (like a soccer or rugby move with the tip of the toe) upwards instead of smacking against the ground and that gives your team a bit more time to cross the line. Maybe just half a second to a second more but at the professional level that’s a long time. Granted I didn’t half an ounce of the talent that these guys do but I’ve often wondered why coaches don’t try a different strategy instead of smacking against the ground and hoping the bounce goes the right away. Just doesn’t seem like it has a high probability of working.
    _________________________________________________
    If you don’t bounce it off the ground the receiving team can call for a fair catch

  28. NFL has killed the onside kick
    ——————————
    In my humble opinion, the onside kick deserved to die. Stupid play.
    The REAL kickoff returns, however, need to be ressurected.

  29. egomaniac247 says:
    October 14, 2019 at 10:57 am
    Article would make sense if Demaryius Thomas hadn’t nearly botched the insides kick away yesterday. It hit him in the chest and bounced right off. The other team was inches from recovering it but he barely scooped it back up in time.

    ———-

    Actually it does make sense…..the attempt failed

  30. Why not just make it less distance now? Like 8 yards out instead of 10?

    If the kicking team recovery rate balloons too high at 8 yards, just move it to 9…

  31. travman162 says:
    October 14, 2019 at 10:38 am
    OR teams could put that same 2-minute effort in at some other point during the game?
    —————–
    BINGO, man! I’m with you!

  32. If the NFL cared about PLAYER SAFETY it would only schedule Thursday games AFTER a bye-week for both teams. This rule change makes the game less entertaining while not making a real difference to player safety comparable to the damage down by playing after only 3 days rest.

  33. Changing the kicking rules was done with the lie of player safety as the reason, but it was really in the quest for parity.

    The better teams tend to have better special teams, giving them further advantage. They reduced the impact of special teams to close the parity gap, and in doing so all they did was reward the bad owners who put lousy products on the field by giving those crappy teams a little more chance to win a few.

    And in doing so took some of the most exciting plays out of the game.

  34. The league can bring back the onside kick very easily; change the rules to allow a running start by lining up three yards behind the 35 yard line. It’s a running start, but not a sprint, and would make the onside kick a realistic opportunity again.

  35. I believe the success rate last year was only 8%. Maybe 3 or 4 recovered for the whole year. And some of those were not end of the game scenarios.

    I have to believe the success rate on a 4th and 12 is significantly higher then 8%.

  36. Why doesn’t a team try kicking the ball straight up and ten yards out? Might take some practice, but it would increase the time for a team to get under it. Use the punter.

  37. I’m not surprised they changed the rules for onside kicks. It gave the kicking team guys a head start to get a free shot on guys. What if they kept the same rules and moved the kickoff return guys up so they are five yards from the ball. Then put some limitations on contact so the kicking team can’t just plow over everyone.

  38. what about a rule that if the kicker kicks it through the uprights on a kickoff the team gets 3 points or possesion of the ball.
    Is it too easy for kickers to do that nowadays?

  39. Remove kickoffs from the game. Onside attempts fail and 99% of regular kickoffs end in a touchback! Most boring play in football!

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