The NFL’s continuing its attempt to make kickoffs safer by moving the spot of the ball following a touchback to the 25 yard line is supposed to give teams further incentive to not make any attempt to return kicks and simply take a knee in the end zone. Unfortunately for the league, at least in the case of the New England Patriots, that rule might backfire.
While the sample size is admittedly very small, it seems as though the Patriots would far prefer Stephen Gostkowski to loft a high kick that ends up between the five yard line and the goal line, luring their opponents into returning kicks, instead of driving the ball through the back of the endzone and giving the opposing offense the ball at the 25 yard line. Of Gostkowski’s six kicks in Sunday’s game, four were placed between the five yard line and a yard into the end zone, resulting in returns off four of his six kicks (the opening kickoff and Gostkowski’s first kick of the second half were touchbacks). Arizona never made it past their own 21 on those returns, and had an average starting field position off kickoffs of the 18 yard line, the worst starting field position off kickoffs in the entire NFL this week, according to ESPN Stats and Information.