Onside kick success dropped from 21 percent to 6 percent after new rule

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When the NFL changed the rules governing kickoffs before the 2018 season, little was said about onside kicks. The focus was on the vast majority of kickoffs, in which the ball is kicked deep and players run full-speed down the field to try to make a tackle, resulting in plenty of head-on collisions.

But onside kicks have become a major casualty of the new kickoff rules, which prevent players from getting a running start before the ball is kicked.

In the 2017 NFL season there were 57 onside kicks and the kicking team recovered 12 of them, or 21 percent. In 2018-2019, under the new rules, there have been 79 onside kicks and the kicking team has recovered 5 of them, or 6 percent.

It’s hard not to think the NFL needs to revise that rule to give teams a better chance of recovering onside kicks. Perhaps the NFL could allow players on the kicking team to get a running start if the kickoff travels less than 20 yards. Or perhaps the NFL could give teams the opportunity to run an offensive play to keep the ball: The Alliance of American Football allowed teams to run one offensive play, and if they gained 12 yards on that play they kept the ball. Another option could be allowing teams to go for two from the 15-yard line, where extra points are spotted, and get both two points and the ball back if they succeed on the conversion.

Something needs to be done. A recovered onside kick has been a key play in some of the best comebacks in NFL history. Those comebacks simply don’t stand a chance anymore.

14 responses to “Onside kick success dropped from 21 percent to 6 percent after new rule

  1. I’m in favor of allowing a running start if the ball travels less than 20 yds. Definitely against a 12 yd completion play: Aaron Rogers could complete those in his sleep all day long.

  2. All rule chages should first be tested in Pre-Season and then measured by their results and unintended consequences before being implemented. If only the NFL had someone they pay over $40MIL/year to make executive decisions.

  3. Maybe they could just have the kicking team declare it’s going to be an onside kick, and have the rule allow running starts when they’re declared. The addition of a small amount of predictability might actually improve safety compared to the old rule, but would still give the kicking team a fighting chance.

    Don’t like either idea that involves the offense giving itself more chances to keep the ball. That unfairly favors a hot offense (and penalizes a tired defense). Keeping the transitions in the hands of special teams is the most fair process.

  4. So we should make rules easier for teams that didn’t play well for the first 58 or 59 minutes of the game, so that they have a chance to come back? How about don’t be down 2 scores late in the game and you won’t need to worry about onside kicks.

  5. How about running start before kickoff is illegal, a 10-15 yard penalty, unless you recover the ball, then it’s no penalty.

  6. I don’t like the idea of declaring an onside kick either because that takes away the element of opening a half with it. I would be in favor of it traveling only 5 yards which is easily reviewable.

  7. In fact there hadn’t been a single successful onside kick in the NFL this year until the Saints-Bears game a few weeks ago and the Bears recovered two in a row–although one was reveresd on replay.

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