Tag:Kickoff Rules
Posted on: February 16, 2012 4:31 pm

NFL says concussions down 50 percent on kickoffs

The Panthers were second in touchdbacks in 2011. So that, um, Olindo Mare signing worked? (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

Prior to the 2011 NFL season, the league moved kickoffs from the 30-yard line to the 35-yard line in an effort to reduce the number of injuries on kickoff returns. The result, according to Hunt Batjer, the co-chair of NFL Head, Neck & Spine Committee, was a positive one.

Quite positive, in fact: Batjer told Brad Biggs of The Chicago Tribune that after the change, concussions were down 50 percent from the previous year.

We just got the data recently," said Batjer, the co-chair of NFL Head, Neck & Spine Committee and department chair of neurological surgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. "It looks to me like a decreased number of runbacks played a role. It did not affect a lot of the other injuries paradoxically."

This is a pretty logical conclusion to reach, if only because of the dramatic rise in touchbacks as a result of the rule change:

Year Kickoffs Touchbacks Toucback Percentage
2,572 1,120 43.55
2,539 416 16.38
2,484 407 16.38

Yes, it is kind of crazy that 2009 and 2010 featured the exact same percentage of touchbacks. It's even crazier to see the kind of spike that we did in 2011: quite clearly the rule change was effective in limiting the amount of contact that return units had.

In 2009, the Cowboys led the league with 29 touchbacks. In 2010, Billy Cundiff and the Ravens led the league with a ridiculous 40. In 2011, 12 teams had 40 or more and only nine teams had less than 29 touchbacks.

It's an obvious effect of moving the ball forward five yards. An obvious effect of that is less contact, with the final obvious effect being less concussions.

The end result is that you shouldn't expect to see the NFL move kickoffs back to the 30-yard line any time soon.

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Posted on: July 18, 2011 8:38 pm
Edited on: July 18, 2011 9:46 pm

New rule could make for longer games in 2011

Posted by Ryan Wilson

Every offseason, the NFL's competition committee convenes to discuss which rules to add, modify or scrap altogether. Mike Pereira, the former NFL Vice President of Officiating who now works for Fox Sports, writes Monday that in anticipation of the 2011 season, 121 NFL officials just completed a three-day clinic in Dallas where, among other things, they were apprised of the rules changes.

Some new rules were met with outspoken criticism (unsurprisingly, James Harrison took the lead on that), although the most controversial decision had to be the one that resulted in no change at all.

Last season, Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson had a touchdown overturned against division rival Chicago after it was determined that he hadn't met all the criteria for what the NFL considered a legal catch. Crazy us, we just thought it involved, you know, catching the ball in the end zone.

If you can stand it, here's the play in question: 

No matter how many times we watch that replay, we always expect it to be ruled a touchdown since it looks ... just like a touchdown.

Pereira explains why, in fact, the pass thrown to Johnson is still considered incomplete.

"There were no substantial changes to the catch rule. There are three elements to a catch when going to the ground. First, you must get total control. Second, you must get both feet or another body part down. Third, and the trickiest, you must maintain control throughout the entire process of going to and hitting the ground. The ground can cause an incompletion in the field of play or end zone. The competition committee affirmed that the pass to Johnson was incomplete as the ball came out of his control when it hit the ground. He completed the first two elements of the catch but not the third."

This will placate almost certainly no one, but to quote every coach or athlete to ever talk to the media, "It is what it is." Moving on...

A rules change everyone can get behind: every scoring play will automatically be reviewed. The goal is to reduce missed calls and save coaches from wasting challenges, but Pereira notes that there will be unintended consequences, too. "There will be a lot more replay stoppages in 2011, and the length of games will increase. Neither of those is good for the game."

On this last point we can all agree. Presumably, even James Harrison.

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Posted on: March 22, 2011 1:13 pm
Edited on: March 22, 2011 4:15 pm

NFL announces kickoff and replay rule changes

Posted by Will Brinson

It appears the "tweak" faction won out with the NFL owners on Tuesday, as it's been announced that in 2011, kickoffs will take place from the 35-yard-line, while touchbacks will remain at the 20-yard-line.

Previously, it had been thought possible that touchbacks could be moved to the 25-yard-line in 2011, but that proposal was met with a storm of vitriol from many people around the league, particularly those teams with strong special teams units.

Some coaches believed -- and rightly so -- that moving touchbacks to the 25-yard-line would affect field position too much.

"Any time there's a touchback and now it's not coming to the 20," Saints coach Sean Payton said, "I think that that probably was the most drastic of the four or five items that constituted one rule."

Then, earlier Tuesday, Marvin Lewis, a member of the Competition Committee, let word leak that there was substantial consideration towards tweaking the rules while still improving player safety.

That tweak has taken place, and now two things remain to be seen. One, will this improve player safety? It seems likely, based on what we know about kickoffs and the strong possibility of increasing touchbacks while also limiting the length at which a wedge can build steam. (This seems like a good time to remind folks that the wedge has NOT been outlawed.)

"The bottom line is it's ... the highest risk of injury play," Saints coach Sean Payton said.

Latest from Owners Meetings

And two, will this decrease the enjoyment that fans get out of kickoff returns? It seems somewhat likely, since kicking from the 35-yard-line probably means less returns. Though it could increase the flashiness of big gains during kickoffs, thanks to players like Devin Hester being able to break the field wide open.

Speaking of player safety, two other proposals were deferred. First, a proposal to outlaw players launching to make a hit. And two, expanding the definition of a defenseless receiver.

"We didn't feel like there was enough support to get it passed," said Giants owner John Mara, a competition committee member. "A number of people seemed to be, in my opinion, more concerned about flags being thrown for questionable hits. My feeling is, I'm more concerned about needless concussions, so I'm willing to make that trade. But I think we need to go back and just clarify some of the language, maybe to make it a little bit more clear for everybody."

On the replay side of things, all scoring plays will now be subject to a replay by the booth (a rule which passed with a 30-2 vote), which no longer means that coaches need to feel concerned with throwing their red flags on an issue that occurs near the goal line. Additionally, coaches will continue to earn a third challenge if they win their first two, though that was considered as a possibility to be dropped.

Coaches pushed for the change in great part because they felt they didn't get a fair shake in road games.

"It's a real big competitive disadvantage," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "You don't get that look at it on the road that you get at home; they just don't show it."

Oh yes, and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the "Boise Rule" -- NFL fields must remain green-colored. The logic here, apparently, is to keep teams from slapping sponsorships onto their surface that would discolor the playing field.

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Posted on: March 22, 2011 9:20 am
Edited on: March 22, 2011 9:22 am

Kickoff rules tweaked to save touchbacks, wedge?

Posted by Will Brinson

Yesterday, the NFL was able to distract the world from the current labor negotiations with the news that kickoffs might get a drastic makeover; one that would involve pushing touchbacks to the 25 and killing the wedge via a kickoff from the 35-yard-line.

According to Marvin Lewis, Bengals coach and a member of the Competition Committee, there's a new proposal on the board that's got some tweaks.

"I think it caught everyone off guard a little bit. I like the proposal as it stood but I understand the push back," Lewis said, per Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Those tweaks involve, according to the official Bengals Twitter account as well as Reedy, leaving touchbacks on the 20-yard-line and eliminating any ban on the two-man wedge.

Of course, it's entirely possible that even this "tweaked" proposal might not pass; Lewis, via the Bengals' Twitter account, said that he "still sees a battle" for getting the new, tweaked rules to garner approval from the needed 75 percent of owners.

"Sometimes as coaches we need to take a look at the whole picture," Lewis said.

He's right. However, as members of the Competition Committee, Lewis and others also need to make sure that when they take a look at the bigger picture they're not killing off an important part of football and/or handicapping certain teams by overextending a particular set of rules.

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