I find the purposed kickoff change currently being discussed by the NFL Competition committee to be a fascinating debate.
The rule change is being presented as a way to further minimize the impact of big hits and injuries, and more specifically concussions that can occur because of them. Anytime you are talking about player safety it is hard to argue against it. I applaud the league and the Competition Committee in their efforts to continually make the game safer. But, in this case, I think they have gone too far.
By moving the kickoff up to the 35-yard line you will remove a major part of the tactical and strategic workings of the game. This will all but guarantee that offensive drives will start on the 25-yard line (touchback). The statistical difference between an offense starting with a touchback compared to starting on the 30 or 35-yard line is substantial.
Years ago, when Mike Holmgren and Rich McKay first purposed moving the spot of the kickoff back to the 30, it was done with a passionate plea to return the excitement of the KO Return play. Teams had developed kickers that were capable of kicking the ball out of the back of the end zone and returns were diminishing. One of the reasons Holmgren was a proponent was that as the then Head Coach of the Green Bay Packers, Mitch Berger and the Minnesota Vikings were one of the best teams in the league at this, particularly in the sterile environment of the Metrodome. As he told me during the debate, “I am tired of having to go the length of the field on every drive.” Mike had not been able to beat the Vikings in Minnesota in his first five years as the Packers head man.
Unless the statistics show an overwhelming increase of injuries in these situations, I don’t see the justification for this. I think, perhaps, it is more an effort to again show the players that the league is interested in their well being than a genuine effort to limit concussions.