More Kickoff Thoughts

Three quick links about the kickoff change.  

First, I’m back on It’s Boris Diaw Time with Jon Landrum talking about Butler and the reasons behind the new kickoff rule.  Head over there and download the podcast.

The second comes from the always excellent Profootball Reference blog. Chase Stuart disagrees with my article yesterday, saying:

I’m not so sure I agree with Nate; while teams receiving a kickoff may be less likely to score, by definition, teams kicking off will be more likely to score next. In reality, this rule change is sure to have little actual impact on scoring, but that doesn’t mean we can’t engage in a quick thought exercise. Let’s take this rule change to the extreme: suppose instead of teams kicking off from the 30-yard line, from now on the opposing team gets possession of the ball at their own 7-yard line. How would that impact play?

Chase is correct that yards surrendered on one end are often given to the other team after a punt.  There are plenty of instances where that isn’t true, however.

  • A touchback can lead to a longer scoring drive instead of a shorter one, meaning fewer possessions in a game. The yards lost by a return becoming a simple touchback are never recovered by the kicking team.
  • Drives to end halves and games. 
  • Drives into no-man’s land (between the 50-35 yards lines) typically result in punts that result in touchbacks, or where the distance of the punt isn’t maximized.

I don’t think the new rule will result in scoring plummeting, but I do think we’ll see a reduction in the total number of points scored in the NFL next year.  The rest of Chase’s article is a fascinating read as he thinks the kickoff rule could aid in more comebacks and streaky play. 

Finally, the Big Lead talks about the hypocrisy latent in the way fans complain about the kicking game changes.

Overall, we are probably talking about one touchback per team per game. That’s 16 fewer returns per team over a season. That’s about 5-6 total return touchdowns over the course of the season’s 256 games. How many serious concussions, on the most dangerous play in the game, are 5-6 more exciting touchdowns worth so you can feel happy? I’ll try to quickly ballpark some numbers, based on knowing that 3.7 players were injured per team per week in 2010. I’ll show my work so you can plug in your own numbers.

Kickoffs make up more than 5% but less than 10% of a team’s plays, I’m going with 10% of injuries on kickoffs if they are a little more frequent on that play. That gets us 0.37 per team per week. Multiply that by 32 teams and 16 games, and that is 189 total injuries on kickoffs. But there not eliminating kickoffs, despite the hyperbole. Returns will drop by about 25%. That means about 45 injuries, of which some percentage are serious concussions and long term injuries.