New Touchback Rule Backfires as Return Rate Spikes in Preseason


New Touchback Rule Backfires as Return Rate Spikes in Preseason

The preseason cannot really tell you how teams will perform in the regular season. In fact, for most coaches, it is just another opportunity to experiment, which is why NFL Sportsbook betting enthusiasts rarely take preseason performances into account.

This preseason, the NFL’s decision to move the touchback to the 25-yard line has taken center stage, the NFL purposing the rule to discourage returns. And it could be argued that the rule has begun to backfire.

Of the 142 kickoffs in the first week of the preseason, 99 went into the end zone; 100 were returned while 42 resulted in touchbacks. In other words, there were 57 additional chances provided for a touchback which the returner in each case ignored, instead opting to run the ball back.

Of the 137 total kickoffs in week 2, 102 reached the end zone and 50 were touchbacks. In other words, players returned the ball fifty-two times when they did not have to.

There is no reason to presume that these figures will hold up in the regular season; however, if they do, the NFL might have to rethink their hopes and objectives for the touchback rule. The 67 percent return rate seen in the preseason would be an alarming spike if it manifested in the regular season.

The NFL is clearly determined to either marginalize or eliminate the kickoff. That much cannot be denied, especially if they are dead set on reducing high-speed collisions. 

However, NFL coaches have questioned and opposed the validity of the touchback rule ever since it was approved in the spring, and the complications observed in the preseason as a result of the rule might give the coaches the ammo they need to challenge it. 

There are still a lot of people promoting the so-called mortar kick, but all the coaches in the preseason seemed largely uncertain as to how they would approach it, especially during an important game. 

Not every coach has been so quick to condemn the touchback rule, though. Comments from Dirk Koetter (Head Coach in Tampa Bay) seem to suggest that the right team with the right talent shouldn’t have a problem overcoming the NFL’s new obstacles.

But even teams with the most talented players will have to maintain a notable amount of versatility in order to adapt to changing conditions such as the weather which might further complicate the successful execution of a mortar kick.

The key is to use the preseason to figure out the mortar kick. This time is crucial for teams in the NFL to find new means of resolving the difficulties of the Touchback rule. The experimentation will continue until someone figures something out.

The Miami Dolphins head coach was recently asked why his players were even rehearsing returns. After all, there is a clear advantage to taking a touchback. For Head Coach Adam Gase, you can never be too prepared, and the Dolphins now have rookie Jakeem Grant returning kickoffs. 

The changes in the NFL handbook are bound to cause more mayhem than the NFL owners might expect. But the game of football isn’t going to stop just because the coaches cannot seem to figure the mortar kick out. It is up to the coaches to craft new and more effective strategies. 



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