Published: Fri, September 02, 2016
Sports | By Nelson Rowe

The Introduced Touchback Rule in the NFL is Failing as the Broncos Try to Modify

The Introduced Touchback Rule in the NFL is Failing as the Broncos Try to Modify

Eons have passed since the Broncos managed to return a kickoff for a touchdown. During the 2013 season, the 5-foot-5 Trindon Holliday dashed 105 yards through a multitude of aggressive Philadelphia Eagles defenders to the other coast. Astonishingly, Holliday completed a 109- and 108-yarder kickoff returns that season, an achievement that many fans will not see any time soon. Several young players usually strive to impress their coaches by making a kickoff touchdown even though kickoffs stand out as the one of the most dangerous plays in the NFL, because at that moment, 11 players of opposing teams are usually running at breakneck speed towards each other. NFL betting odds have started to focus on the league regarding their decision to tweak its return rules for the second time in five years.

Currently, the NFL has no plans to eradicate the kickoff, but instead, forcing teams to do the same on their own, which is failing. The new kickoff rule suggested by the NFL aims to move touchbacks 5 yards away from the 25-yard line, which many teams find confusing. Due to the increased challenge of completing a 25-yard return, kick returners are now avoiding to remain in the end zone for a touchback. Instead, most preseason games have shown kickers using a shorter and higher pointing kick to land the ball in the 10-yard line, which definitely leads to a return.

In 2015 regular season, teams recorded a cumulative 2.11 kickoffs per game. However, in the past two weeks of preseason games, kickoff returns have increased, with teams returning averagely 2.83 per game, which could lead to approximately 370 additional returns this season. Joe DeCamillis, Broncos special-teams coordinator, said that even though this year has seen many more returns, the rules are still under experiment, but it is worrisome that many balls have been dropped inside the 20 and even deeper in the field. So far, it seems the NFL made a mistake by allowing the returner to drop the ball in the end zone, which gives him an additional five yards to do nothing rather than the kicker blasting the ball deep towards the end zone.

Last season, only the Kansas City Chiefs managed to average 25.14 for a starting field position beyond the 25-yard line after a kickoff. After a kickoff, eight teams started within the 21-yard mark on average. The Tennessee Titans became the worst team to return kicks, with a 19.65 starting field position. Besides Kansas City, approximately 31 teams would delightedly take a touchback with the additional five yards. Brandon McManus, the Broncos kicker, said that player safety is important and that's why he was skeptical about the changed rules because even coaches don’t want to surrender field positions, leave alone an additional five yards.

Five years ago, when the NFL started making these changes, the kickoff position was moved to the 35-yard line from 30 to allow kickers to move easily while kicking the ball into the end zone. The results were convincingly successful, with returns dropping to 3.3% from 80.1% in the first year. In the 2015 season, the league recorded only 41.1% of returned kicks. However, according to NFL.com, this year’s preseason games have already recorded 67% return kicks.

This season we might see the regular season trend returning because the kicking team has closed the gap between them and the returner, which eliminates the advantage of kicking the ball into the end zone. Players cannot make a successful catch and get hit immediately because returners cannot dash down the field that fast. 

Even though the NFL implemented the new touchback rule as an experiment for one season, it might decide to make it long-term in the end. The Broncos representative to the players union, McManus, says that the new rule inhibits the kickoff team from doing anything, and instead suggests that if the ball can be kicked to the back of the end zone, then the ball should stay in the 20-yard line. However, if the players kick the ball to the end zone and eventually take a knee, then the 25-yard line is the best placing for the ball. In the end, every player should be safe.

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