Philadelphia Eagles News

Will New Kickoff Rule Affect Strategy?

After the NFL Owners approved a rule change earlier this offseason that will move kickoffs from the 30-yard-line to the 35-yard-line, the expectation is that there will be far fewer kickoff returns in 2011 than in years past. April, in his second year in charge of the Eagles' special teams, agrees with the sentiment, but he says it may be a bit overstated.

"The league and most of the coaches and organizations feel that it will limit injuries and so we're all in favor of that and we're going to comply with that and do the best we can with it," April said. "Until you see the statistical information, you're kind of just judging things on your experience. I don't know how it will affect it, outside of there will be less returns, because there's probably going to be twice as many touchbacks. There were 16 percent last year. I'd say anywhere from 32, 35 percent touchbacks (this year). That's about six out of 10 will be returned, that's a big dropoff."

And even if there are fewer returns, that won't lessen the importance of the play.

"No different than our offense has a great game and our offense punts one time," he said. "That punt team is still a priority, and when we do it it's still a priority to that game. We may have the next game where we punt eight times. So you never go, I'm going to put this backburner because it's not as much a priority. It's still going to be a priority. And then when we get late in the season, and hopefully we play all of our games here in the playoffs, it's really going to be big because I don't care how good you kick off, it's hard in the winter to kick the ball well."

Year Kickoff Coverage League Leader # Of Teams Under 20.0 KO Allowed Eagles' Kickoff Coverage
2001 17.8 (CLE) 4 21.8
2002 18.9 (CLE) 3 23.5
2003 19.1 (PIT) 3 22.6
2004 19.3 (CHI) 4 22.3
2005 18.4 (TB) 2 23.2
2006 19.3 (ATL) 2 21.1
2007 17.5 (DAL) 7 23.2
2008 18.8 (TEN) 3 21.5
2009 18.5 (CAR) 2 21.3
2010 17.5 (WAS) 6 22.2
Strategically, there's a question as to whether kicking it deep is the most advantageous option. There's some speculation that it might be beneficial to kick the ball high to around the 5-yard-line, allowing the coverage team, which is now five yards closer than before, to converge onto the returner and bring him down before the 20-yard-line. Of course, there's much more risk involved in that case as you allow for the possibility of a big return.

In the last 10 years, very seldom have coverage units allowed less than 20 yards per return. The shortest opponent return average for a season since 2011 is 17.5 yards, accomplished twice, once by the 2004 Dallas Cowboys and once by the 2001 Washington Redskins. Even with the added five-yard advantage under the new rule change, kicking high and shy of the goal line would likely require too much precision to be worth it.

"Just kicking it out of the back of the end zone is probably a greater deal for you," said April. "If they can start at the 20, that'll put more stress on the offense and it will put more stress on the field goal kicker because the drive generally will end at some point and the more backed up (the offense is), the longer the field goal attempt. So, again, not knowing exactly what'll happen, you really don't know. If you put it to the (1-yard-line) with a high kick, there's a good strategy to that too because you're five yards closer and you could actually get them inside the 20. But in the last few years, no one's had a starting point inside the 20 as a kickoff unit. So the 20 is pretty good."

And that's good news for the Eagles, who sport a kicked in David Akers who put up a career-best 23 touchbacks in 2010. That career high may not last very long.

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