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Could The New Kickoff Rules Help The Texans?

The NFL has enacted new rules to make the kickoff safer. Does this help or hurt the Texans’ special teams?

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Houston Texans v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Evolution of the game we love so dearly is necessary. A game that’s played at the brink of human ability needs to be dialed back in certain areas. Even with increased awareness, technology, and rule changes, there was a 13.5% increase in concussions from the 2016 season to 2017. In the interest of the long term health of its players, and the NFL’s longevity, all 32 NFL owners passed new rules to increase safety on kickoffs for the 2018 season. This isn’t a surprise. These changes have been in the works for quite some time.

The NFL’s Operations Department shared this graphic to demonstrate how the kickoff will change in 2018.

The league did a good job communicating rules to the public. Shocking. Here’s a video from the NFL discussing the new rule and how the change should affect the game:

Teams like the kickoff because it gives them the opportunity for a touchdown, onside kick, or better field position, all effective ways for a team to shift the odds in their favor of winning a ball game. Players that may not be the best at a traditional position can build a career by dominating on special teams. Devin Hester, for example, may make the Hall of Fame as a kick/punt returner purely because of his talent at breaking through coverage units. The fans like kickoffs because they are a unique and exciting play with ceremonial meaning. With a consensus on keeping the play in the game (for now), the owners were tasked with making the play safer for players who were routinely sprinting head-on into each other.

With its historic prevalence dating back to 1892, when Harvard played Yale, the wedge formation will finally and totally disappear from NFL games in 2018. Even though there are three players allowed behind the 15-yard “setup zone”, the two who are not returning the ball are not allowed to pair up and form a wedge. Looking at the video above, the opportunity for squib kicks to serve as an effective onside maneuver are highly likely.

The Texans ranked 28th in the NFL last year in kick return yards. Pro Football Focus ranked the Texans 27th in Special Teams Rankings. Ka’imi Fairbairn, the Texans’ likely kicker in 2018, averaged 20.6 yards per kickoff last season. That’s a respectable number, considering a touch back (editors note: originally written a fair catch but that is not the correct call) brings the ball out to the 25 yard line.

Outside of player safety, the main benefit for the Texans when receiving a kick under the new rule will be a mitigation of their opponents’ ability to run freely for 20+ yards before being touched. Yes, every other team will have the same benefit, but for the Texans, who struggled mightily blocking on kickoff returns, this will lessen the degree of difficulty and possibility of disaster. Additionally, without the wedge-block, the entire kickoff will turn into a man-on-man assignment. This should help the Texans maintain discipline in their assignments without having one player go untouched through the kickoff return team.

The preseason will be a particularly important testing ground for these new rules as special teams players and coaches try out new strategies to make the kickoff and covering it effective.