NFL rules now call for touchbacks on kickoffs to be set at the 25 instead of the 20. But it may take a while for team to know if the new rule will impact anything all that much.
Thursday’s preseason game against the Vikings will mark the first chance for Seahawks fans to see in person one of the NFL’s many new rules for this season — touchbacks on kickoffs being placed at the 25-yard-line instead of the 20.
The change was made to try to make it more appealing for receiving teams to accept a touchback, thereby decreasing the number of live returns, and in turn decreasing the number of injuries, with kickoffs being regarded as being as dangerous as any play in the sport.
It’s the latest attempt at reducing the number of kickoff returns —and hence injuries. The league moved the kickoff from the 30 to the 35 in 2010, which was also aimed at increasing touchbacks. That one has worked, with 80.1 percent of kicks returned in 2010 compared to 41.1 percent last year).
A common assumption, though, has been that under the new rule, teams may just kick it short — to the 1- or 2-yard line or so — to try to pin opponents inside the 25 instead of just kicking it through the end zone and giving their opponent the ball at the 25.
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At first glance, that appeared to be the case Saturday when the Seahawks beat the Chiefs 17-16 in Kansas City.
Of nine total kickoffs, just one went for a touchback. The Seahawks had kicks that went to the Kansas City 2- and 8- as well as two others that went into the end zone, officially judged to be four yards deep and five yards deep. All were returned. Kansas City had kicks that went to Seattle’s 2-, 2-and 9-yard-line as well as another that was two yards deep that each were returned.
But one week is obviously a really small sample size.
And Seahawks special teams coach Brian Schneider said this week that basing any conclusions off the preseason will be premature due in part to the nature of the preseason itself.
Specifically, Schneider said teams like the Seahawks want to see how the young players on their kickoff teams can cover, so it doesn’t do them much good to just kick it through the end zone every time and force a touchback.
“You want an evaluation of some of your cover guys,’’ Schneider said.
Schneider said the Seahawks set a rule for the game that any kick more than five yards deep would not be returned, but any kick inside of that could be returned. Schneider said that’s a number the Seahawks set for each game based on weather, overall gameplan and other factors, and can change during the game itself.
“It’s really a game-to-game thing,’’ he said. “I don’t know if we have an overall blanket philosophy on that. It could change in-game, too, depending on what the score is, where we are at. There are so many factors that go into it.’’
Seattle didn’t get a ton out of its returns, averaging 20.8 per attempt. But that’s also a number hard to make anything of since the Seahawks did not use Tyler Lockett — who averaged 25.8 per return last year — on any of them.
And as Schneider said, that will make it hard to evaluate anything in the preseason.
“There’ve been a lot of good returns so far (across the league) but you’ve got a lot of different personnel in there so it’s hard to get a really good test of that,’’ he said.
But Schneider did say teams may indeed may be more inclined to kick it short and see what happens
“I think everyone will want to see how short kicks do and see how the numbers turn out,’’ he said.
“When you look at the stats, the worst coverage team in the NFL was under 25 years (in 2015) so when you look at the numbers and crunch them, there’s a lot of different ways to look at it. You’ve just got to figure out what you want to do. And it always goes back to Pete (Carroll) and what he wants to do each game with our offense and defense and playing off of field position.’’
For his part, Carroll agreed it’s too early to assess anything, but said he’s not sure much will really changed.
“We are really waiting to see,’’ Carroll said. “Nobody knows that answer right now. Some may think they know, but I think we’ve got to gather more input here. We are going to find out. We haven’t made any evaluation on which way we are going to go with that. We are just going to watch everybody’s play and see if there is something to it. Right now we just want to kick it deep and leave them back there and start playing defense, you know. Whatever we need to do to do that—I don’t see us changing a whole lot from what we’ve done in the past.”