August 14, 2011

How the New Kickoff Rule Played Out in Week 1 of the Preseason

Here are the basic numbers: 33.6% of kickoffs in week 1 of the preseason resulted in a touchback, compared to the 2010 season which saw a touchback rate of 16.4%.  That is an increase of about 17.2 percent.

Cornell Grad Bryan Walters hits paydirt
The average field position following a kickoff was the 22.7-yard-line.  This means that kick returns only added 2.7 yards beyond what a simple touchback would offer.  This compares to the 2010 season which saw an average starting field position at the 26.1-yard-line.  This is a difference of less than 4 yards, which is interesting considering that the ball was moved up 5 yards.  See this post for an in-depth explanation of the new rule and its effects.

Of course, we should note that there was a kickoff return in the San Diego-Seattle game by undrafted-free agent receive Bryan Walters.  So despite all the boring touchbacks, there was indeed some action.

[Read more to see the graphs!]

Generally speaking, returners made a smart move by bringing the ball out of the end zone about twice as much as they made a bad decision.

Another interesting insight was that the number of touchbacks really varied by game.  There was some games with very few, while other games had almost exclusively touchbacks on every kickoffs.  I get the feeling that some kickers narrowly miss the power to boot it in the end zone every time, while some kickers have the power to blast it in the back of the end zone every time.  Additionally, some teams seemed very conservative and tended to kneel when the ball was shallow in the end zone, while other teams ran it out almost always.


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