The Harvard Sports Analysis Collective

By Andrew Mooney

A year and a half into the NFL’s amended kickoff rules, it’s safe to say they’ve achieved their intended purpose. In 2010, 16.4 percent of kickoffs resulted in touchbacks; a year later, that number rose to 43.5 percent. The teeth were taken out of what was thought to be one of the most dangerous plays in the game by simply reducing the number of times it occurred.

The kickoff rule change—specifically, kicking off from the 35-yard line—interests me not as a safety regulation, but as a method to examine teams’ decision-making. Have NFL coaches properly accounted for it in the way they instruct their special teams units?

My gut reaction says no. On a number of occasions this season, I’ve watched returners take the ball out of the end zone from eight or nine yards deep in the end zone, only to be stuffed at the 15…

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