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NFC tries new possession rule in Pro Bowl

Kirk Cousins and the NFC team goes for NFL’s onside kick alternative in Pro Bowl

Kirk Cousins #8 of the Minnesota Vikings throws a touchdown pass in the second half of the 2020 NFL Pro Bowl at Camping World Stadium on January 26, 2020 in Orlando, Florida. Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

There has been a 33 percent decrease in concussions on kickoffs since changing the rules, according to the NFL. Those rules have been detrimental to onside kicks, as teams can’t overload on one side or get a running start. At this point, in the NFL, there really is no way to come back from a big deficit late in a game. Maybe that’s a good thing. Teams that get down big probably shouldn’t have a shortcut to getting the ball back, but, at the same time, it is more fun to watch a game with some intrigue at the end.

This season, the NFL Pro Bowl implemented a new rule that would allow teams to score and then take the ball back on their own 25-yard line and get one play to complete a 4th down and 15. We were able to see that rule put into place when Kirk Cousins hit Davante Adams for a short touchdown to make the game 38-33 AFC with four-and-a-half minutes left. Pete Carroll decided to try out the new possession change rule for the 4th and 15 from the NFC’s own 25. Cousins went deep, trying to hit Kenny Golladay 40-plus yards downfield, but the ball was intercepted by Earl Thomas. The AFC got the ball back at the NFC’s 25-yard line and ran the clock out for the win.

We likely wouldn’t see deep bombs as the norm in this situation, especially with so much time left on the clock, but normally, 4th and 15 conversion rate is slightly harder than the pre-rule change onside kick rate and easier to convert, depending on the team, than the new onside kick rules.

The biggest positive is that this option should be safer for players while also giving their team similar odds to getting the ball back as the onside kick of old. But, there are some possible drawbacks.

Explosive offenses get a big advantage on the crucial 4th and 15 play.

Yes, explosive offenses always have an advantage, but when you look at the range of conversion rates on 3rd/4th and 15 for each team, there are big discrepancies based on offensive talent. The question is, do we want to give the best offenses the advantage in our onside kick alternative over those with strong special teams? Maybe, but it is something to think about.

Defenses will be wiped out.

Teams will have been going at it all game and starting to wear down. A team that is up two or three scores gives up a long drive for a touchdown and then has to quickly turn around and defend a 4th and 15 and if they don’t stop the offense on that play, they’re getting to defend another drive with tired defenders. The accumulation effect on defenses is one that seems to tip into being unfair.

We lose the fun and randomness of an onside kick.

This one depends on your feelings toward the onside kick, but there’s no doubt that the play is exciting and when it works, it feels like you’ve just witnessed a miracle. If Tyreek Hill takes a slant 15 yards, no miracle.

John Elway and the Broncos proposed a similar rule last offseason which wasn’t passed. It takes a 3/4ths majority of the owners to sign off on a rule change and this one is radical enough that it will be tough to get through. There’s also a good chance that this or a similar rule does end up getting a year trial though, as the NFL will always look for ways to keep viewers engaged as late into games as possible so they can charge more for those fourth-quarter ads.