NFL kickoff rule change brings records

Lost among all the offseason commotion due to the NFL lockout was a controversial rule change.  The league’s competition committee voted to move the kickoff spot up from the 30-yeard line to the 35, in the hopes of reducing the number of serious injuries.

Pundits cried that this would result in a big increase in touchbacks (thus removing excitement from the game), and Patriots head coach Bill Belichick even theorized that the league was looking to eliminate the kickoff altogether.

After Week 1, touchbacks were indeed up, with nearly 52% of the kickoffs resulting in touchbacks, up substantially from the 18% in 2010’s first week of games.  This must have resulted in sheer boredom on special teams, right?

Not so fast. In fact, quite the contrary.

The week saw three kicks returned for touchdowns of 100 yards or more, tying an NFL record − 108 yards by the Packers’ Randall Cobb (tying an NFL record), 103 yards by the Vikings’ Percy Harvin and 102 yards by the 49ers’ Ted Ginn Jr.  In additions, many more teams were willing to let their returners run it out from the end zone – resulting in an average kick return of 26.8 yards, also up from last year.

But given the increased number of touchbacks, that means most offensive droves start from a team’s own 20-yeard line.  This would result in more punting and less scoring, right?  Again, a pleasant surprise − five punts were returned for touchdowns, making the combined 8 kick return touchdowns the most in a single week, another NFL record.

To be fair, this was only one week, and a number of factors helped.  First, there was no inclement weather for any of the games, and temperatures were mild.  Second, the shoddy special teams play (poor tackling, etc.) could also be attributed to the lockout, thanks to reduced practice time.  Finally, if teams are going to pay their kick returners well, they sure don’t expect them to take a knee in the end zone.

On the flip side, as the weather gets cooler and more inclement, expect the number of touchbacks to decrease some.  And the kick return coverage should improve as some of the younger, less experienced players get more experienced and actually learn how to tackle in the next few weeks.

Moral of the story?  Don’t listen to the “experts” – the excitement that kickoffs bring to the game isn’t going anywhere.

Used with permission of the author.

Chris Lardieri runs the “West Coast View” column for Sports Climax. A veteran to the keyboard, Chris also covers the Los Angeles Dodgers for Examiner.com and has written about Major League Baseball for Inside Edge, a scouting company that provides content to ESPN Insider and Yahoo Sports. Follow Chris on Twitter for more sports observations.

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