Time for onside kick alternative has come

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The NFL systematically has marginalized the kickoff over the past decade. And for good reason. It was, as league officials admitted, the most dangerous play in the game, with high-speed collisions leading to concussions and other injuries, sometimes serious.

Recent changes to the kickoff procedures have reduced the magnitude of the hits by limiting the ability of two players running in opposite directions to gain a full head of steam. Those changes also have made it much harder for an onside kick to succeed. Which makes it much harder for a team that is trailing by more than one score late in a game to mount a comeback.

So what can the NFL do to help the losing team? It can try a different strategy for retaining possession after a score, and in the otherwise meaningless and irrelevant Pro Bowl, the league will experiment with a new procedure.

The fourth-and-15 concept first appeared in the Time “Enforcer” profile of Roger Goodell from 2012, as an idea shared with Goodell by then-Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano. (While Schiano was at Rutgers, Eric LeGrand suffered permanent paralysis during a kickoff.) Getting rid of the kickoff and replacing it with that fourth-and-15 play gives the team that otherwise would have been kicking off the option to punt, to run a play (simulating the obvious onside kick), to fake a punt (simulating the surprise onside kick), or to pooch punt from a normal scrimmage formation.

For the Pro Bowl, fourth-and-15 will be used only when a team chooses to attempt an onside kick. Otherwise, the team that would be receiving the kickoff will get the ball on its own 25.

As the kickoff fades from relevance and, quite possibly, closes in on extinction, the question becomes whether to use the fourth-and-15 play as the replacement for every kickoff (including the occasions when a team would punt from that spot) or only when the team that would be kicking off wants to try to retain possession. The latter option limits the number of punt plays in a game (which raise separate concerns about high-impact collisions), but it also eliminates completely and entirely from NFL football the surprise onside kick.

Of course, the surprise onside kick already has gone the way of the dodo bird, given the difficulty in recovering them under the current kickoff configuration. The intended onside kick, while routinely attempted, is rarely recovered. So why not give a team the option to retain possession by converting fourth and long?

Six years ago, in the days preceding Super Bowl XLVIII in New York, Commissioner Roger Goodell was asked who he roots for. He said the team that’s losing. Under current rules, if the team that is losing is losing by two or more scores late, that team has little or no chance to close the gap. The only way to change that at this point is to embrace the fourth-and-15 play as an alternative.

26 responses to “Time for onside kick alternative has come

  1. Who’s ready for some fake DPI calls on the 4th and 15 play to get the league’s preferred team back in a game or win it?

  2. Over the past year the chiefs have been over 50% converting on third downs between 15-25 yards… if the “fourth-and-15” rule was an option as an alternative to onside kicks they would (and should) literally do it every single time.

  3. sure 4th and 15 works fine until there is a PI called or not called. Then just toss the play onto the pile of things everyone complains about.

  4. Here’s a thought…don’t fall behind by a lot of points, then you won’t need an onside kick.

    I always thought getting the ball back on an onside kick was kind of cheesy. It’s fine the way it is. Recovering one should be rare, not some dependable strategy for making up a lot of points in a short period of time.

  5. All-American Voltron says:
    January 22, 2020 at 5:18 pm
    Completing 4th and 15 is a lot easier than securing an onside kick. Needs to be farther than 15 yds.

    That’s the point…completing an onside is entirely too difficult, so they’re trying to make it more interesting.

  6. Just simplify the purpose and change the rule book to: If a team’s primary colors are Green and yellow and they are trailing in the 4th quarter and score a TD then they receive the following kick-off.

  7. Keep the kickoff, and adjust the rules to increase the success rates of onside kicks. Shorten the 10 yards the ball must travel before being touched by the kicking team, or allow the ball to be kicked from a spot wider than the hash marks to delay the time it takes to travel the ten yards on an angle.

  8. I’m fine with this as long as defensive holding or illegal contact or whatever isn’t an automatic first down on this play. Losing your possession over some hand fighting would be some weak effin sauce.

  9. Change the kick-off to a punt-off, if the punting team makes 10yards(essentially be 4th and 10) they keep the ball. Will get all players except returner to line of scrimmage making it safer, still allow a surprise play opportunity for the punting team and make special teams play/players still relevant, and possibly even more so.

  10. Now let’s do away with touchbacks! Most boring play in football! Place the ball on the 35 if it goes into the end zone! That’ll stop that crap!

  11. Stupid question…

    Why is the ball live on an onside kick or squib kick…but when the kickoff receiver standing on the goal line lets the ball go over his head and the ball dies in the end zone untouched…why is that ball not live?

    Kinda like why isn’t clocking the ball considered intentional grounding.

  12. gohawks7 says:
    January 22, 2020 at 8:12 pm
    Stupid question…

    Why is the ball live on an onside kick or squib kick…but when the kickoff receiver standing on the goal line lets the ball go over his head and the ball dies in the end zone untouched…why is that ball not live?

    The onside kick is live because it has hit the ground.

    The rule was put in allowing clocking the ball many years ago

  13. Why not keep the kickoff, but place the Receiving team at the 20, and Kicking team (except the kicker) at the 30, nobody moves (except the receiver and kicker) until the returner touches the ball, if the ball hits someone other than the returner and is muffed it is a live ball! This keeps the excitement of the kickoff and removes the collisions to a great degree! Plus puts excitement in onside kicks, and get rid of touch backs.

  14. The kick off was a great part of the game and it shouldn’t be further changed. I remember watching highlights commented by Chris Berman on ESPN and having kick off returns – it seems to never happen with the current rule changes. The on side kick is the same way. Yes, its a low percentage play but it should be. Also, anyone remember New Orleans recovering a surprise on side against the Colts – Why diminish the potential for those plays.

    NFL needs to stop overthinking the rules – they have clearly screwed up the PI calls – feel like I am watching basketball half the time

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