Although the NFL did not vote on the much-discussed “fourth-and-15 alternative” to the onside kick, it did pass a new rule that will make onside kicks easier for the kicking team to recover.
The rule will require the receiving team to have no more than nine players lined up in the “setup zone,” which is defined as the area between 10 and 25 yards from the spot of the kickoff.
Previously, NFL teams always put either 10 or 11 players in the setup zone when they were expecting the opposing team to onside kick. According to the NFL’s tracking data, receiving teams expecting an onside kick line up with 10 players in the setup zone 87 percent of the time, and all 11 players in the setup zone the other 13 percent of the time.
With only nine players in the setup zone, fewer players on the receiving team will be in a position to recover the onside kick, and the kicking team will have a better chance to get to the ball.
Since the NFL changed the kickoff rules to prohibit a running start by the kicking team, onside kicks have become much less successful. This new rule may change that.