Fact or Fiction: Impact of new touchback rule

Posted Mar 25, 2016

The staff debates Big Blue topics following rule changes made at the NFL meetings

Moving to the 25-yard line after a touchback on a kickoff will have a big impact on the game.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fact - This could have an impact in one of two ways. The easy result to predict is more touchbacks and fewer kickoff returns. An alternate effect would be an increase in the number of mortar kicks that fly very high and land inside the fifteen yard line, forcing a return that would fail to get back to the 25. The kickoff is going to always be a play that results in a lot of high speed collisions. The only way you make the play safe is by eliminating it or fundamentally changing it. I vote for the latter. I would propose turning the kickoff into more of a punt play where the kick and return teams are lined up right on top of each other, eliminating players getting a 10-20 yard head start to get to full speed before making contact. This would make the play significantly safer but keep the excitement of a kick return. Someone send this brilliant idea into the competition committee!

DAN SALOMONE: Fiction - For the vast majority of games, the kickoff has already been eliminated since the ball was moved up a few years ago. Yes, this rule will tweak a few things strategically, but a big impact? No. Viewers won’t even think twice about it once they get into the season, just like how it is in college football.

LANCE MEDOW: Fact - An additional five extra yards in starting field position will have a huge impact on the game because I don’t think as many teams will take the risk in attempting a kickoff return. Last season, the average kickoff return went for just under 24 yards which is less than where this season’s touchback will spot you. 11 of the 32 teams (just one-third) had an average kickoff return of more than 25 yards and the league high was 27.5 (Chargers). If taking a knee yields you better field position or about the same as your average from 2015, without the risk of a turnover, what’s the incentive of returning a kickoff? Teams with game-changing specialists will attempt a kickoff return here or there depending on the amount of time left in games and certain situations but, overall, I think the number of returns will go down and I think teams will get creative by utilizing squib (pooch) or mortar kicks to entice teams to return the ball and risk committing a turnover. This new rule doesn’t completely eliminate the value of return men but certainly devalues their roles.

Odell Beckham Jr. and Victor Cruz would make the best WR duo Eli Manning has ever had.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fact - But only if Victor Cruz is the same guy that played for the Giants from 2011-2013. If he isn’t, it is extremely close with Plaxico Burress/Amani Toomer and Hakeem Nicks/Victor Cruz.

Odell Beckham would be the best of the bunch, so the onus would be on Cruz to be a good enough 2nd wide receiver to put the duo over the top. Cruz’s knee was in great shape last year, and it will only be stronger now. If only he can get that calf healed and ready to go, I think he could be a real force again this year.

DAN SALOMONE: Fiction - Beckham is the best of the bunch and is already third on the list of most touchdown catches thrown by Eli Manning with 25 (Plaxico Burress is first with 33, and Hakeem Nicks is second with 26). But I’m going with what we’ve seen and not what we could see, meaning the Cruz-Nicks combo of 2011. Cruz sparked the Super Bowl run with a 99-yard touchdown against the Jets, and Nicks took it from there with 444 yards receiving in the postseason, which remain second only to Larry Fitzgerald’s postseason record of 546 in 2008. Cruz and Nicks remain the only Giants receivers to surpass 1,000 yards each in the same season.

LANCE MEDOW: Fact - The key part of that phrase is “would” which makes it easier to go fact here. Substituting “will” for “would” solely depends on Victor Cruz’s health and production moving forward but, on paper, the potential is certainly there. The combination of speed, versatility in where you can line them both up on the field, and big play making ability “would” make this Eli Manning’s best wide receiver duo. The two would be a constant threat for 1,000 receiving yards apiece every season. Manning’s other dynamic duos: Plaxico Burress/Amani Toomer and Hakeem Nicks/Victor Cruz accomplished that feat just once in 2011 when Nicks and Cruz both surpassed over 1,000 receiving yards. Burress and Nicks provide a bit more size and length, specifically in the redzone, but it’s hard to overlook the threat Beckham and Cruz pose to defenses when they’re on the field at the same time.

The NFC East has improved through free agency.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction - The Giants are undoubtedly more talented than they were last year by adding Janoris Jenkins, Snacks Harrison, Olivier Vernon and Keenan Robinson, but I’m not so sure about the other teams. The Cowboys will be better because their quarterback is healthy, but their free agent additions weren’t game changers. They improved a bit defensively by adding Cedric Thornton in the middle of their defensive line, but they lost Greg Hardy at defensive end. Alfred Morris should be a boost at running back but I don’t see any other significant improvement due to free agency. The Eagles will look different but their free agent additions of Rodney McLeod (replacing Walter Thurmond), Nolan Carroll, Rueben Randle, Ron Brooks and Brandon Brooks (their most significant move) don’t move the needle much. The Redskins have likewise been very quiet. The Giants definitely improved the most in free agency, but I’m not sure the rest of the division has been much better than static. The Eagles are counting on a coaching change helping them, Dallas is counting on Tony Romo being healthy, and the Redskins are looking for their young players in house to continue to improve. The Giants went the free agency route.

DAN SALOMONE: Fact - I say this only because, honestly, it couldn’t get much worse than last year. Three teams in the division combined for 17 wins while the champion didn’t climb above .500 until Week 16. The Giants bolstered their defense, and the Redskins locked up their quarterback. That’s a good start for the NFC East.

LANCE MEDOW: Fact - It’s hard to answer this question considering two (Giants, Eagles) of the four teams were extremely active in free agency and the other two (Cowboys, Redskins) were quiet. The Giants made the biggest splash in the division bolstering their defense by addressing multiple positions through free agency, specifically the defensive line, which on paper looks like one of the best in the league. The Eagles didn’t bring in as many household names but they signed players on defense who are familiar with new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s scheme. Linebacker Nigel Bradham, cornerback Ron Brooks and corner Leodis McKelvin all played under Schwartz when he was the Bills defensive coordinator in 2014. More often than not in free agency, it’s not necessarily the names on the back of the jerseys but how well the players fit in the scheme. Similar to the Giants, based on the 2015 stats, the Eagles looked to revamp their defense this offseason and they certainly accomplished that through free agency plus added guard Brandon Brooks from the Texans to address the offensive line. The Cowboys plucked players from their rivals by bringing in running back Alfred Morris from the Redskins and defensive tackle Cedric Thornton from the Eagles but, you figured entering the offseason, their biggest addition would come internally with the return of Tony Romo. The Redskins are easily overlooked but the majority of their free agent moves were geared toward keeping last season’s roster intact, specifically retaining Kirk Cousins with the franchise tag, and when you win the division that’s expected. They tweaked their secondary with the addition of Broncos safety David Bruton and added to the defensive line by signing Chargers defensive end Kendall Reyes. While the Redskins and Cowboys didn’t make major moves you can’t overlook the under the radar signings. I think the Giants and Eagles improved their defenses so with half the division meeting the criteria I’ll lean toward fact.

The Giants will draft an offensive lineman in the first three rounds.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fact - I’m not positive they will draft one in the first three rounds but I think it is more likely than not. I am very confident they will draft an offensive lineman, probably two before the end of day three. If they do not draft one between rounds 4-7 I would be very, very surprised. Developing young offensive linemen in house is always important for depth and future success. I would suspect the Giants continue that process this season.


DAN SALOMONE: Fact - They’ve done so the last three years with left tackle Ereck Flowers (first round), center Weston Richburg (second), and left guard Justin Pugh (first). And it’s turned out well. They’re all starters and have fortified the very important left side of the line for Manning, who is coming off two of his best statistical seasons. Three good turns deserve another, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see another lineman added in the first two days of the 2016 draft.

LANCE MEDOW: Fact - Winning in the trenches on both sides of the ball has always been the mantra of the Giants organization and based on recent drafts, the offensive line has been a focus. They’ve selected at least one offensive lineman in each of the last seven years and one in the first three rounds in each of the last three. As of right now, there are starting positions up for grabs on the right side of the offensive line so there’s a chance they could target someone, in the first three rounds, they feel could come in and immediately compete for a starting job.