You can tell we are in the middle of a lull in the sports world when a rules change by a league that doesn’t technically exist right now is among the most important stories on the sports agenda. On Tuesday the NFL tweaked a few of their rules and most notably changed the rules on kickoffs. The new kickoff rules change is a good win for the St. Louis Rams who will definitely be helped by the new rule set forth.
The new rule is simple in that they will move the ball from the 30-yard line back to the original 35-yard line that was used for many years. In addition the NFL has set forth that no kickoff coverage member is going to get a 10 or 15 yard head start and that they will have to start their coverage run within five yards of the 35-yard line. The NFL competition committee contends that the idea is to reduce the concussions and injuries that happen on this play.
The two parts of the rule that were adjusted from the original proposal was to move the touchback out to the 25 instead of the 20-yard line. The powers that be decided that it was giving the offense too much of an advantage to place the ball that far out. The league also elected to keep a two-man wedge in blocking schemes instead of banning the wedge from the game.
The move helps the St. Louis Rams out significantly for three main reasons. The first reason is simple. The Rams do not have a great kickoff return game and this rule may actually help their game out. As good as Danny Amendola can be the blockers in front of him were not very effective in 2010. At times this season the Rams were better off starting from the 20 instead of from deeper in their own end. Whether the rule means more touchbacks or more time for Amendola to make a move it is a win-win for the Rams.
Conversely the Rams are helped in their kicking game as well because of Josh Brown’s problem kicking the ball deep. Brown was among the worst kickers in 2010 with creating touchbacks. Kicking in a dome most of the season Brown was able to only put the ball in for a touchback five times the entire season. Moving the ball up five yards can only help Brown increase that number. When you compare that Brown did it five times while Baltimore Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff did it 40 you realize that the Rams kicker needs some help.
Third, the Rams should benefit from this rule because it will reduce injuries. The Rams and every other team in the league lose more players to injury on this one play than any other in the game. How many times do you watch a NFL game see the kickoff, see a player injured, go to commercial and then see that player either still laying on the field or being carted off after the commercial. It happens very often. Reducing the runs by some of these kickoff coverage people will slow the game down a little while hopefully not reducing the excitement of the kickoff.
I have been amused by some media members, and some former players, complaining that this is “softening” the sport. These are the same people who claim that the NFL doesn’t care about the players. While I don’t think the NFL truly cares about their players I do think that they find it disturbing that they lose 25% of their roster on almost every team due to injury. They want to reduce that number no matter whether their reasons are honorable or not.
I actually believe that this rule will lessen the amount of injuries and will not change the number of kickoffs returned per season. Everyone is focused on the kickers pounding the ball into the endzone, but what they are forgetting is that because players don’t have the run up to the kickoff line that they once had they won’t be as far down the field as they were when the kickoff lands. Returners will have more room to operate and get up the field then they had before.
People fear that the Devin Hester’s and Joshua Cribbs won’t be a part of the game anymore and I actually think the opposite. It is not as if these kickers get the ball into the endzone every time as it is. As the numbers with Josh Brown show even moving the ball up five yards doesn’t mean that he will be kicking 50 through the back of the endzone in 2011. The Cribbs and the Hesters now have more time to get moving. That actually makes them more dangerous in my mind.
Overall I think this is a good rule. If you can find a way to reduce injuries in the game without taking away the fundamentals of it then you have to do it. You have never seen so much gnashing of teeth over five yards in your life, but the NFL Rules committee did the right thing here. Now if the Labor Situation could get handled in the same manner we would all be much better off.
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