Posted by Ryan Wilson
It's one thing for kick returners to bemoan their plight regarding the new kickoff rule that now has balls sailing into the end zone roughly a third of the time, but they're not the only people complaining. CBSSports.com's Josh Katzowitz wrote Wednesday that Patriots head coach Bill Belichick thinks the NFL wants to squash kickoffs altogether (the league disagrees with that assessment).
The Browns' Josh Cribbs, the NFL record-holder for career kickoff-return touchdowns with eight, has been understandably outspoken on the rules change. After tweeting over the weekend that kicking off from the 35-yard line has turned preseason games into a "scrimmage," he told FoxSportsOhio.com's Pat McManamon on Wednesday that "I'm entitled to my opinion."
As is often the case, player safety prompted the rules change. Saints coach Sean Payton called the kickoff return “the highest risk of injury play.”
Cribbs isn't buying it. “If that’s what the issue was, there are no stats to back it up,” he said. “The intentions are good, but the stats aren’t there.”
Football is inherently dangerous, and it's not inconceivable to think that kickoffs might be more hazardous than a typical play. But Cribbs is right -- the rules committee needs to do more than just proclaim kickoffs dangerous; they should give players the numbers to back it up. It's certainly a lot easier to sell a wholesale change that redefines one of the most exciting plays in football when you can point to a chart that shows, for example, the increased likelihood of a concussion resulting from an 11-on-11 full-speed head-on collision.
Under the new rule, the kickoff team can line up no more than five yards behind the 35-yard line in an effort to keep players from reaching full speed as they race down the field.
This makes sense and most reasonable people would agree that it should decrease injuries. But again, it would be nice if there were stats backing this up. Because following this logic, the NFL should also consider modifying punts, too. It sounds extreme, yes, but so does the thought of making guys like Cribbs and Leon Washington suddenly obsolete.
“I want somebody to come chase my record,” Cribbs said. “I want to chase it as well. I feel like rules like (this) will take it out of proportion. At the same time it’s an obstacle to get over and I’m looking forward to getting over it.”
You know who we haven't heard much from on this issue? The Steelers, a team that has struggled to cover kicks and punts in recent years. They may disagree in principle with the change, but we're pretty sure they won't put up too big a fuss given what Cribbs has done to them.
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