It might be a first in the annals of the NFL. A team actually following their heart and disgust in a new rule implemented by the league and showing it during the first pre season game. Who said the Bears had no heart?
The NFL has instituted new kickoff rules for the safety of its players. In simple summation, the kickoffs are now done from the 35 yard line instead of the 30. Also every player on the kickoff team must be touching the 35 at the time of the kick. This is to eliminate a full speed head start and hopefully to eliminate injuries.
Six teams voted against the implementation, one of them the Chicago Bears. Saturday night Chicago showed their displeasure. The Bears lined up for their first two kickoffs at their 30. Their opponent, the Buffalo Bills didn’t notice it. The fans never noticed it and evidently the officials never noticed anything was wrong because no penalties were called.
In fact, it wasn’t until halftime anyone drew the problem to the attention of the officials. It took a phone call from Vice President of Officiating Carl Johnson to stop the Bears from doing it again. But was Chicago doing it on purpose or were they just mistaken?
The Bears have had great return teams for years, most of it thanks to their kicker Robbie Gould. Coach Lovie Smith explained the situation as being unfair to his team. Smith stated Gould can place the ball at the 35 yard line and kick it out of the end zone every time, thus the coaches cannot get a true feel for how their special teams will adjust.
The rule may be in an effort to diminish injuries. However it also hurts teams that have built themselves into kickoff return giants. The Bears have done that. Last year, the Bears ranked first in average starting drive position at their own 33-yard line. So at first look this rule seems to hurt Chicago.
In looking at the numbers, the Bears will be improved with the new rule when they kickoff. Chicago ranked 24th in average drive start allowed, allowing opponents to start at about their own 30-yard line. That should be better, especially if Gould can drive the ball into the end zone as Smith thinks he can.
Many are upset at this rule, not only teams but individual returners such as Devin Hester of the Bears and Josh Cribbs of the Cleveland Browns. They say the rule is built to take fun and excitement out of the game.
After the first weekend of pre season games, they are correct. The numbers show and there have already been diminishing returns. In the first preseason weekend 43 of 127 kickoffs, or 33.8 percent, were touchbacks. Throughout the 2010 season, the touchback rate was 16.4 percent. Is this what the league wanted?
Now they may need to re-examine this sooner than later. Fans love the kickoff return and soon will long for it if these numbers become more common place.