The NFL appears headed for a big scoring change that makes too much sense not to happen.
Eliminate the extra point.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goddell said during the bye week before the Super Bowl that the league is examining proposals to ditch the point after touchdown.
It was hard to find anybody during Super Bowl week who objected to the idea.
“It’s become a non-play,” agreed retired NFL coach Mike Westhoff, one of the most successful and respected special teams coaches ever. “They make 99.6 percent of the kicks. With the new rules on protection and the way you can rush kicks, things have dramatically changed. Nobody likes the non-play.”
Said New England coach Bill Belichick last month: “I personally would love to see the kicking game remain as a very integral part of the game so that the kickoffs are returned and so that extra points are not over 99 percent converted, because that’s not what extra points were when they were initially put into the game back 80 years ago, whatever it was.”
There’s no other play in any other sport that is close to being as irrelevant. It’s amazing it has taken this long to get around to serious discussion on the topic.
Kickers made 1,262 of 1,267 extra-point tries during the 2013 regular season. That’s nothing new. Kickers made 97 percent of extra-point tries 25 years ago. The average was 97 percent in 1970, 94 percent in 1950.
The simplest way to change the rule is to make a touchdown worth seven points. Then give coaches the chance to go for a conversion from the 2-yard line. If the try is successful, the team gets an extra point, making it an eight-point play. If the try fails, a point gets subtracted, making it a six-point play, which is exactly the current end result after a failed two-point try.
The NFL probably would not want to keep a TD at six points and make the two-point try mandatory. That would devalue the touchdown, essentially making it equal to two field goals. Another option would be to make the two-point try mandatory but move the attempt to the 1-yard line. The NFL’s style is to opt for the most conservative, sensible change available.
Coaches have not embraced the two-point try to any greater degree over the years. It happened just 33 times this year, on 2.4 percent of touchdowns.
The NFL’s competition committee is in charge of proposing rules changes. It meets with the players’ union at the NFL Scouting Combine next week, then it has its own meetings in early March. It brings proposals to the owners in late March.
Vanishing KO return
Percy Harvin’s kickoff return for a touchdown to open the second half of the Super Bowl demonstrated again that the kickoff return is one of the most exciting plays in the game.
Too bad it has been so diminished. Since moving the kickoff point from the 30 to the 35-yard line in 2011, touchbacks have increased from 16 percent in 2010 to 50.6 percent of all kickoffs in 2013. The NFL said the desire to reduce the risk of injuries was the reason for the change.
Westhoff coached special teams for the Dolphins from 1986 to 2000 and the Jets from 2001 to 2012. He shook his head when told the Bills returned a team-record low 23 kickoffs.
“The role has been reduced,” Westhoff said of special teams. “You can’t look at it any other way. It’s not the same. It’s not the same job. I was asked to come back several times. I don’t want to do it. It’s not the same job that I helped move into a coordinator’s position. It’s just not.”
“I understand all the safety concerns,” Westhoff said. “I’m in favor of it. I drew up and designed a kickoff return that is safer. I talked to the league about it, and proposed how to still have it and still have safety, to not generate the big, 40-yard collisions. Safety is here to stay, and I’m in favor of it. But with that, to keep the game, rules are going to have to be adjusted.”
Westhoff’s proposal, first floated on the website themmqb.com last year, goes like this: Place the ball at the 25. The kicking team’s coverage men can’t line up behind the 20, creating only a 5-yard run-up to the kick, which is the same as the current run-up rule. The coverage team must line up eight players between the opposition’s 35 and 45. Only three players, including the returner, can line up farther back. This would create returns on most kicks but still would reduce the big collisions from guys running great distances and busting into the wedge formation.
“I think having so few kickoff returns takes something away from the game,” Westhoff said. “I think you could put guys up closer and they could take each other on. It more resembles a punt return than the kickoff return, with the big collisions.”
It’s a great idea. You could make it less radical by putting the ball at the 30, which would put the touchback rate back to about 16 percent.
Don’t expect the NFL to adopt it. It appears determined to marginalize the kickoff return.
It’s not going to get any easier to get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the coming years.
Whenever there is more than one strong candidate among the first-time eligible players, it makes it tougher to pick out the top five modern-era candidates who will get elected. Such was the case again this year. Walter Jones and Derrick Brooks were elected as first-year guys. That left only three spots open, which went to Andre Reed, Michael Strahan and Aeneas Williams.
The top five who made the cut from 15 to 10 modern finalists were: Jerome Bettis, who ranks sixth in career rushing; Charles Haley, who has five Super Bowl rings; Marvin Harrison, third all-time in receptions; Kevin Greene, third all-time in sacks; and Will Shields, a 12-time Pro Bowl guard. Tim Brown, fifth in receptions, didn’t make the top 10.
Here are the upcoming first-year groups:
2015: Junior Seau, Orlando Pace, Kurt Warner, Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Kevin Mawae, Ty Law and Edgerrin James.
2016: Brett Favre, Terrell Owens, Alan Faneca.
2017: LaDainian Tomlinson, Hines Ward, Jason Taylor, Brian Dawkins.
2018: Ray Lewis, Randy Moss, Steve Hutchinson, Brian Urlacher.
There’s not enough room in the top five, nor the top 10, for everyone who’s worthy in 2015.
Sirianni rises in SD
Jamestown native Nick Sirianni continued his rise in the NFL coaching ranks this week when he was promoted from quality control aide to quarterbacks coach for the San Diego Chargers.
Sirianni, a 1999 graduate of Jamestown’s Southwestern High School, played receiver for two Division III national championship teams at Ohio’s Mount Union. He was a good one. As a senior, he caught 52 passes for 998 yards and 13 touchdowns.
He started his coaching career with gigs at Mount Union and Indiana of Pennsylvania, then got his big break in 2009 when he was hired as a quality control coach with the Kansas City Chiefs. The jump to the NFL was the result of a chance meeting. Sirianni was home on break during his sophomore year at Mount Union and working out at a Jamestown-area YMCA. So was Chicago Bears receivers coach Todd Haley, who was vacationing at Chautauqua Lake. The two struck up an acquaintance. When Haley was named head coach of the Chiefs in ’09, he hired Sirianni.
Sirianni, 32, comes from a football family. Older brother Jay Sirianni is head coach at Southwestern High, where he has won a state Class C championship. Older brother Mike Sirianni has an 11-year record of 101-24 as head coach at Division III Washington & Jefferson, near Pittsburgh.