If you’re tired of watching Steelers kickers fail to reach the end zone on kickoffs and then helplessly watch as they allow a return out to the 40-yard line, I have some good news for you. The NFL approved a rule change on Tuesday that will move the kickoff location back to the 35-yard line, which should, in theory, increase the number of touchbacks for teams across the league. Kickoffs used to take place from the 35 until the 1994 season when they were pushed back to the 30.
The Steelers kickers in 2010, Jeff Reed and Shaun Suisham, combined for just six touchbacks. In 2009 they had just three (and allowed four kickoff returns for touchdowns). By comparison, 23 kickers around the league in 2010 had more touchbacks than the Steelers, including 13 that recorded at least 15. Baltimore’s Billy Cundiff topped the league with 40 … or 50 percent of his kickoffs. That is stunningly amazing, and that number is sure to go up by giving him an extra five yards to play with.
Previously this offseason there was talk of moving touchbacks out to the 25-yard line and eliminating the two-man wedge on returns, but the NFL elected to keep touchbacks at the 20 and will continue to allow wedges. The league also increased instant replay by making all scoring plays eligible for review by the replay official in the booth and tabled the vote on changing the language on defenseless receivers (basically, what you saw last year is what you’re going to get this year).
The reaction I’m seeing from a lot of fans around the Internet is that they’re unhappy with the kickoff rule change, as it eliminates, at least in part, what can be an exciting play. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has been a critic of the move, along with the Chicago Bears, a team that also happens to employ one of the best returners in NFL history, Devin Hester.
If nothing else, it’s going to make that time between touchdowns and the start of the ensuing offensive possession even more valuable in terms of hitting the bathroom or the kitchen: Touchdown, commercial break, kickoff touchback, commercial break, return to action.