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The NFL Makes its Annual Rule Changes

NFL owners earlier today made their annual set of rule changes.

The biggest change is the moving of the kickoffs from the 30-yard line to the 35-yard line and allowing kickoff coverage players a 5-yard running start, instead of the current 10 to 15-yard running start.

Opening Kickoff of the Ravens at Texans, 2010 Season (Robert Snyder)

Many NFL reporters and talkshow hosts say the change in the kickoff rules will lead to a decrease in scoring.  I agree with their assessment, since a higher number of drives will start at the 20-yard line.

Also, while the decrease in yardage for a running start for the kickoff coverage players is supposed to decrease the severity of collisions (and potentially open up larger returns) it won’t play as large of a role as you might think, since a higher percentage of kickoffs will be touchbacks.

Ryan Hyatt and I were discussing the kickoff rule change earlier today and we both think it will be reversed after one season.  One of the main reasons that kickoffs were originally moved to the 30 is because of stronger kickers getting too many touchbacks.  Remember, the NFL loves its offense and offense will be hampered by more-and-more drives starting at the 20.

Here an interesting stat from the 2010 season, via ESPN & Stats, Inc.:

Average drive start, 2010

Rank Team Yard line
1 Bears 33.7
2 Jets 32.8
3 Patriots 32.1
4 Eagles 31.8
5 Titans 31.5
NFL Average: 29.9
Source: STATS Inc., via Bears

Touchbacks will lop off a full 10 yards in average starting drive position.  Certainly not the best rule change to keep scoring high.

Another rule change approved by NFL owners is the all scoring plays will now have to be confirmed by the booth replay official.  If the booth official sees an issue with a scoring play, the on-field referee will be buzzed and the play, reviewed.

Essentially this change does two things: 1) gets all scoring plays correct, regardless of if the teams have any challenges to use  2) frees up the head coaches to use challenges more liberally since they won’t have to worry about saving a challenge for a 2nd half score.

The NFL, in my opinion, has become too much like NASCAR with the constant rule changes, year-after-year-after-year.  One of the things I’ve always liked about Major League Baseball is the consistency in the rulebook.  Sure, some of the enforcement has changed over the years (strike zone & balks), but the fundamentals of the game haven’t changed.  Meanwhile, the NFL constantly tweaks and changes their game to the point that when you look at an old game from 30, 40 years ago, you’re surprised that its the NFL.

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What do you think about the changes?  Let me know in the comments below.

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