As I just talked about the first round of the annual league meetings to take place following the start of the new league year will be held at the end of this month. During that time, assuming that the event is actually able to take place as planned, the Competition Committee will be considering seven team-submitted proposals for rules changes, some of which I will be going over during the course of the next couple of days.
Arguably the most significant proposal that was made comes from the Philadelphia Eagles—who have four of the seven submitted proposed changes—which would “provide an alternative to the onside kick that would allow a team who is trailing in the game an opportunity to maintain possession of the ball after scoring (4th and 15 from the kicking team’s 25-yard line)”.
The league has been following the development of the XFL, which features a number of rules alternatives that they may want to consider to adopt over the course of time. The fledgling league’s innovative alterations to the kickoff is definitely something I expect to attract the major league’s attention in due time, but for now, we have the onside kick to consider.
With the changes that the NFL has already made to kickoffs, recovering onside kicks has become more difficult than ever before, and let’s face it, the league has no interest in watching games end with a series of kneeldowns because the trailing team that just scored couldn’t recover a kickoff.
The thinking goes that the degree of difficulty of the down and distance on the play from which you take over sufficiently offsets for the defending team the opportunity to recover an onside kick in the first place.
Just for my own curiosity, I ran the numbers through Pro Football Reference to see how often teams successfully converted on fourth and 15-25. Teams completed nine of 21 passes under such circumstances for 163 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions, recording six first downs or touchdowns, with one penalty. That is seven of 22, a conversion rate of about 32 percent.
In comparison, teams have only been successful at covering onside kicks over the past two years at a rate slightly above 10 percent. The Alliance of American Football already had a similar rule in place last year, and the NFL actually adopted a similar rule to try out during the 2020 Pro Bowl.
Considering the fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers have been as terrible as anybody at recovering onside kicks, they would have nothing to lose by supporting this proposal. Head coach Mike Tomlin is a member of the Competition Committee.