Published: March 16th, 2011 | Tags: NFL Competition Committee
The proposed rules changes for special teams under review by the competition committee would destroy a huge part of the strategy involved in the game. Sometimes, special teams is where teams excel. The proposed rules would eliminate advantages for teams whose strengths are on special teams and help other teams cover their weaknesses.
I understand the emphasis for safety concerns in the game, but you can’t change the game to try to change safety. Most often, injuries and concussions happen when they’re least expected. I don’t have a problem with any of the other measures in place — controlling hits, where it’s legal to hit, teaching better fundamentals or improving the equipment used — but I think it’s unneccessary to change the game so dramatically, because concussions will continue. It’s a fact of the game.
By moving the kickoff up to the 35-yard line, kicking teams will be very content with touchbacks and having offenses start at the 25-yard line. I expect touchbacks to go way up. Teams with kickoff specialists — like David Buehler — will have that player on the roster solely to limit and eliminate all returns so players like Devin Hester never get their hands on the ball.
I really don’t think returners will be any less inclined to attempt returns, depending on where the ball lands. Catching it 2 or 3 yards deep, most returners will try to make a play. It’s their chance to shine and make an impact in the game.
The bottom line, though, is that the emphasis on touchbacks for the kicking team means we’ll lose a big part of the game.
Another factor is that these rule changes would absolutely hurt teams with strong return men. Teams already attempt to kick around players such as Hester and Brad Smith using squib kicks, kicking to the coffin corner or even intentionally kicking the ball out of bounds. It’s a big, big strategy of the game. Some teams are better at it than others.
How many times have we watched a team score at the end of either half and a quarterback such as Drew Brees gets the ball in great position because of a great return or because the ball was kicked out of bounds to avoid a great returner? To get a winning field goal, the offense has to gain only 30 yards. Under these rules, teams can kick for a touchback to force teams to start at the 25. I don’t care who your quarterback is, it’s a much bigger problem.
The changes would also marginalize certain specialists, such as Hester, Smith or Josh Cribbs, for which teams have invested roster spots. You want the ball in some players’ hands at crucial points of the game, and it would hurt their teams by, basically, taking them out of the equation.
And then there are teams with mediocre kicking specialists or poor kick coverage, teams who would breathe a sigh of relief with the increased touchbacks. When teams put rosters together, they might invest less in coverage units than they would if they have a kicker as talented at Sebastian Janikowski on the roster. And when it comes to kickoff specialists, I would expect teams to retain players who can consistently put the ball in the end zone and eliminate returns all together.