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updated: 9/28/2011 12:03 PM

NFL's kickoff rule in danger of ruining game

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  • Even Bears kicker Robbie Gould doesn't care for the new kickoff rule because he says it won't help avoid injuries.

      Even Bears kicker Robbie Gould doesn't care for the new kickoff rule because he says it won't help avoid injuries.
    STEVE LUNDY | Staff Photographer


If the NFL's intention in moving kickoffs up five yards to the 35-yard line was to create a less exciting game, then mission accomplished.

In its attempt to reduce injuries, the league has virtually eliminated one of the most exciting plays in the game.

It is hands down the worst rule change the league has made in recent memory, and it has been criticized universally by players, coaches and fans.

The Bears-Packers game Sunday was a perfect example of a game robbed of excitement.

It featured three of the most exciting return men in the game, Devin Hester and Johnny Knox for the Bears and rookie Randall Cobb for Green Bay.

Of the 10 kickoffs in the game, seven resulted in touchbacks, where literally nothing happened. It was about as exciting as watching an intentional walk in baseball.

Fans were not able to watch some of the league's best athletes weaving their way through a broken field at top speed with the possibility of a big play on each kick.

Instead, they were "treated" to the spectacle of players in coverage sprinting down the field to be the first to arrive at a return man downing the ball in the end zone, or watching it sail out of the playing surface with no chance to even field the ball.

The rule is bad, not just because it diminishes the contributions of some of the game's most exciting entertainers. It also doesn't completely accomplish what it set out to do, which is reduce injuries.

If the league wants to do that, it should eliminate two-man wedges that return teams utilize to blow up players in coverage.

The league has reduced the number of players allowed in wedges to two, but that isn't enough. It should make any wedges illegal, and it should give return men a chance to do what they do.

"Collisions aren't going away, because you have two-man wedges still," Bears kicker Robbie Gould said. "You have guys that are still going to go down and collide with one another.

"When you have two-man wedges, you're going in there and you're trying to blow up the wedge. When they have zone blocking (instead), you're (responsible for) two gaps, which is basically getting rid of the helmet-to-helmet collisions."

Gould's kickoffs have gotten longer every year, and he is the fourth-most-accurate field-goal kicker in NFL history, but he still is not considered to have one of the strongest legs in the game.

Yet 11 of his 14 kickoffs (78.6 percent, second best in the league) this season have resulted in touchbacks, many of which carried out of the end zone.

On his first kickoff Sunday, Gould triggered a $62,000 bonus payment in his contract with his eighth touchback of the season.

But even Gould doesn't like the new rule because he believes that eliminating wedges on returns would do more to prevent injuries than essentially eliminating kickoff returns.

As the rule now stands, the NFL may as well just give teams the ball at the 20-yard line after they have allowed a score because that's exactly what happens on kickoffs more often than not.

Of the 20 players with the most kickoffs this season, 11 of them have had half or more of their kicks end as touchbacks, including Denver's Matt Prater, who is 13-for-13. Seventeen of the 32 teams have gotten touchbacks on at least half of their kickoffs.

And many of the kickers who aren't getting the almost-automatic touchbacks are trying instead to pop up the ball just short of the goal line, hoping to pin teams down short of the 20-yard line.

Either way, it's a less exciting game with the new rule.

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