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NFL Moving Kickoff Position Likely Makes Colts Very Happy

A week ago, the NFL's Competition Committee made a series of recommendations to the NFL owners regarding rules changes for the 2011 season. One of those was changing the rules surrounding kickoffs.

Yesterday, the NFL owners voted to accept the Competition Committee's recommendations:

NFL kickoffs will take place at the 35-yard line -- not the 30 -- under a modified proposal passed by team owners Tuesday at the league's annual meeting in New Orleans, but not everybody is happy about it.

The change, which could be an advantage for kicking teams, might diminish what teams can accomplish on special teams and make for a less exciting product, said several coaches and players unhappy with the new rule.

In other words: Advantage Colts.

If, when reading the NFL.com story breaking the news, you flashed back to Antonio Cromartie running back that kick in the final moments of the Colts January 8th playoff loss to the New York Jets, then you likely shared the same thought process Bill Polian did when he likely lobbied for this rule change.

The Colts had that game cooked and done. Peyton Manning had led a strong comeback. Adam Vinatieri had kicked the game-winning field goal. All that was left was to cover the kick, and let Mark Sanchez throw his signature season-ending INT. Except, coverage guys like Jerry Hughes whiffed on the coverage, and Antonio Cromartie returned the kickoff back to nearly mid-field. The Jets converted a first down, kicked a field goal, and won the game.

Somewhere between the Cromartie return and the Jets field goal to win, Jim Caldwell did a few noticeable coaching blunders that even had Peyton throwing up his hands saying WTF!


But, if Pat McAfee had been kicking from the 35, and not the 30, that kickoff goes out the back of the endzone. Cromartie doesn't return the kick, and likely the Colts win that game. No stupid Jim Caldwell timeouts. No offseason of questions and finger-pointing. Just happy feelings at winning a playoff game despite a 10-6 season loaded with injuries, inconsistent coaching, and poor roster management.

Thus, the Colts were VERY motivated to make this change a reality.

More from the NFL.com article:

The league's competition committee initially proposed moving touchbacks up to the 25, eliminating the blocking wedge and limiting coverage players from long run-ups. The league reduced the number of players allowed in a blocking wedge to two in 2009.

Several coaches expressed concern about making too many changes on kickoffs, saying that bringing touchbacks out to the 25 would affect field position too much. Coaches are worried about an increase in touchbacks from last season's 16 percent.

"Any time there's a touchback, and now it's not coming to the 20," New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton said, "I think that that probably was the most drastic of the four or five items that constituted one rule."

Making kickoffs safer was the objective, and Payton believes the owners met it, voting 26-6 for the new rule.

"The bottom line is it's ... the highest risk of injury play," he said.

Competition committee chairman Rich McKay said coaches were concerned about an increase in high kicks from the 35 intended to trap returning teams deep and severely decreasing the number of returns. He also said the two-man wedge wasn't a driving force in the uptick in injuries on kickoffs. Indeed, more injuries occur in coverage than on the return squads.

The NFL is presenting this as a change to help protect the safety of players. This is coming at a time when the players are saying the owners care nothing about player safety best evidenced by ownership's insistence on a ridiculous 18-game regular season. So, knowing that, it's best to take this 'our concern is the players' stuff in its proper context. It's likely the owners are posturing here.

As far as the game of football being affected, obviously players like Josh Cribbs and Devin Hester are pissed. Then again, these guys make their money returning kicks and doing little else. Hester was once a corner who couldn't cover. The Bears have since switched him to receiver, where he can't catch. Hester's SOLE REASON for being in the NFL period is his kick return abilities. Now, that is threatened.

Suggestion: Become very friendly with the wideout ball machine, Devin.

For the Colts, all this change does is provide them with an advantage. Bill and Chris Polian care little for special teams. They don't require veterans to play on ST, and they don't invest high draft picks or expensive free agent contracts on kick returners. If anything, they have expressed an annoyance with kick and punt returning in general. So, it comes as no surprise to me that this rule was adopted. Apparently, 26 over teams agreed. The six no votes likely were the Browns, Bears, and four other teams whose offenses likely suck.