During last year’s NFL Annual Meeting, team owners voted in favor of a rule proposal many argued would be a game-changer for the league.
It was decided that kickoffs would move back to the 35-yard line, where they were prior to 1994.
Increased player safety was the primary reasoning behind the proposal. Kickoffs represented one of the league’s most dangerous plays, especially when it came to concussions. Moving kickoffs five yards forward would lead to a greater percentage of touchbacks, decreasing the amount of violent hits on returns and hopefully making kickoffs safer in the process.
Others argued the rule would all but eliminate one of the most exciting plays in football.
“Looking at the results of it – and we studied it pretty carefully – (the rule change) achieved its objective,” Falcons President Rich McKay, chairman of the NFL competition committee, said in a conference call.
“We found that concussions and injuries were definitely down as a result as much as 40% on concussions. We felt like the rule change served its purpose.”
The rule change hit the Chiefs twofold last season.
Though it ranked 27th in the NFL, the average starting field position of Kansas City’s opponents fell to a record low in 2011.
The average starting line of Chiefs opponents following a kickoff fell to the 23.1-yard line last season. Not once did Kansas City hold opponents inside the 25-yard line when kicking off from the 30.
“Kickoffs were down tremendously as far as percent of returns,” McKay said. “The average start line when down, and we were really concerned with how that would affect offense. But player safety overrode that concern.”
League-wide, average starting field position after a kickoff saw a significant decrease and fell to the 22.1-yard line.
Regardless, league scoring ended at 44.6 points per game, which was the highest scoring NFL season in 46 years.
“What was nice was that it did not ultimately affect scoring or offense,” McKay said. “On the game in general, the average drive start for the entire game, every possession, was affected about one yard and a half. That did not end up impacting the offenses.”
Offensively, the Chiefs didn’t follow the league trend.
Averaging just 12.3 offensive points per game, Kansas City posted its lowest-scoring season since the strike-shortened 1982 campaign.
The Chiefs also struggled in the return game, finishing 30th in the NFL with a 21.3-yard kickoff return average.
Chiefs returners failed to take any kickoffs past midfield and were stopped 21 times inside the 20-yard line. Kansas City’s average starting position after a kickoff was the 20.6-yard line.
“We knew, quality of game-wise, it was going to have some impact but we were still committed to doing it,” McKay said.
“I didn’t hear anything different from that – whether we were dealing with the players’ association in a meeting in Indianapolis or dealing with the coaches’ subcommittee – there was no push at all this year by any team or anybody on the committee that we should change the rule because I think we do feel like we’ve moved the needle on the injury side, which was the focus.”
The Chiefs ended the 2011 season with eight players on injured reserve. None of those injuries were suffered during a kickoff.
In 2010, Chiefs LB Mark Simoneau was placed on injured reserve and later announced his retirement after suffering a head injury while covering a kickoff against the Broncos.