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Print

2 Kicking Rule Changes Should Help the Jets

Posted Mar 23, 2016

Spotting Ball at 25 After Touchbacks & Making XP Rule Permanent Have Benefits for Green & White

This is the time on the NFL calendar for rules changes. Two changes from the owners' meetings in Boca Raton this week caught our eye, both involving the kicking game. And the view from here is that both benefit the Jets.

One proposal approved this morning was changing the spotting of the ball after kickoff touchbacks from the 20-yard line to the 25.

The first thought is that this could counteract the concept of limiting kickoff returns and thus the resulting injuries, which began with moving kickoffs from the 30 to the 35 in 2011. Might kicking teams opt for more "mortar shots" into the field of play that would force returners to return and cover teams try to tackle inside the 25?

The NFL feels that won't happen.

"We’ve asked colleges and they really like the 25-yard line," Competition Committee chairman Rich McKay said before the vote. "They haven't seen anybody decide they would rather mortar-kick than have a touchback, because with a mortar kick you still run the risk of a return.

"In our mind, this was a good change. It was one we talked about originally when we did the rule and maybe we should’ve pushed more, but there was pushback. We looked at more tape, we talked to more people. We’re pretty confident that’s not going to be the case. If that were the case, we would come back and address it."


More Scoring Ahead

Another angle to this rule: Undoubtedly scoring will go up. Anytime you reduce the length of a number of drives every game by 5 yards, touchdown drives and field goal tries will increase.

A metric to support that comes from charting Jets drives over the years. Since the 1970 merger, factoring out 80-yard touchdown drives because they're over-represented, the rate of TD drives rises dramatically the shorter the drive, from 35 TDs on 85-yard drives to 80 TDs on 75-yard drives.

Point production didn't appear to be a reason for the rule, but McKay said in general about the NFL: "Scoring was fifth-highest of all time at 45.6 [points/game], and we set records for yards from scrimmage, passing yards and completion percentage — all-time league records ... so we feel very good about statistically where the game is."

So how is this good for the Green & White? Well, consider who is one of the league's top touchback producers — New England's Stephen Gostkowski, who since '11 has produced the most TBs, 280 in all, with opponents' average drive start after his boomers at their 20.7, tops among qualifying kickers. (And Buffalo KO specialist Jordan Gay is even better on fewer kicks with a 20.0 opponents' drive start.)

If McKay is right that most teams will keep kicking off as usual, the Jets and all other New England foes will get a 5-yard "Gostkowski penalty" to start many of their drives.


Etching the XP Rule in Stone

As for extra points, the NFL has voted, after last year's trial of snapping for PAT tries from the 15 instead of the 2, to make the rule permanent. To the delight of the league officials who shepherded the rule through — and to the chagrin of kickers — the NFL's extra-point percentage dropped from 99.5% accuracy to 94.2%.

Again, the Jets can't be too unhappy. True, they missed their first extra point since 2007 when Randy Bullock pushed his first try at Dallas wide right. But Nick Folk, who sat out the second half of the season with a quad pull, remains the NFL record holder for most extra points without a miss — 311 straight in the regular season, 10 more in the postseason, and all 19 from the new distance of 33 yards out before his injury.

Sure, Folk could suffer a miss now. As he told me last May when the rule was first proposed as a one-year experiment:

"Definitely with some of those kicks I've made, from that distance I would've missed. I think I hit the upright on a couple and they went in. You have a little lapse, or we have a little bobble with the hold or something, and you're trying to pound that thing through. You might see some of those where the snap's a little off, you might see a few more 'fire' calls."

Nevertheless, he said, "For me, it's 13 yards further but it shouldn't change a whole ton." We'll keep taking our chances from 33 yards out with Mr. Automatic.

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