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New NFL rule is a kick in the head to the game, fans

There’s bad rules, and then there’s awful rules. And the NFL’s new kickoff rule is the latter.

By moving the kickoff from the 30 up to the 35 yard line, the NFL has just about legislated the kickoff return out of the game.

Don’t think that five yards matters that much? Then how come Saints kickoff man/punter Thomas Morstead said he was told by coaches to just hit a “solid three wood” kick off the tee. Notice he didn’t say driver.

In 2010, Morstead kicked off 49 times; 10 went for touchbacks. That is a touchback percentage of 20.4 percent.

Friday night in the preseason opener against the 49ers, Morstead kicked off five times, and three went for touchbacks. The San Francisco 49ers, an offensively challenged outfit if there ever was one, did not start one drive post-kickoffs past their own 20 yard line.

Last year, Morstead and place kicker Garrett Hartley kicked off a total of 83 times. 14 went for touchbacks.

So, I asked Saints head coach Sean Payton, a huge proponent of the rule change, if the kickoff return has been legislated out of the game?

Payton defended the change saying it was done because the odds of injury on a kickoff is three times higher than any other play in the game. But he also said that teams will also try to kick the ball high, and inside the five yard line, trying to pin teams deep in their own territory.

I get it though. Payton’s concern for injury appears genuine. But I just wonder if he had a great returner, would he feel the same way?

Then Payton added these nuggets: “We feel like we have the leg strength to the ball to the end zone. We are comfortable with that as a starting point for our defense. Certainly, offensively, we are comfortable with starting on the twenty as well.”

Payton knows what every other coach in the league knows. The better teams will benefit from this rule. He knows that another 10 yards, a.k.a. another first down, is a minor hurdle for the Saints' potent offense.

In the meantime, if you are Pete Carroll in Seattle and Hue Jackson in Oakland, your dynamic kick returners have been basically sent to the sidelines. In 2010, Leon Washington of the Seahawks and Jacoby Ford of the Raiders each returned three kickoffs for touchdowns. Think we'll see that this season?

Payton and Morstead both said that wind could affect kickoffs negatively outdoors. But what if you are kicking off with the wind? Isn't accounting for weather conditions just part of the game?

The problem is, the fans don’t pay to see kickers kickoff. In week one of the preseason, they basically did. In all, 13 kickers had at least two touchbacks. Washington Redskins kicker Graham Gano was five-for-five on kickoffs for touchbacks.

Would you rather watch a Gano kickoff or a Devin Hester return?

Thought so.


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