Yesterday, the NFL passed a series of new rules, ranging from the interesting change to which players can wear which uniform numbers to an allowance for the replay official to provide “objective information” to the officiating crew to presumably help them not screw up calls so badly. Those are welcome changes.
Because the tantalizing possibility that the Falcons might not be on the wrong end of an extremely costly call, the biggest and most noteworthy change for the the team might be the alteration to onside kick rules.
Approved 2021 Playing Rules and Bylaws: pic.twitter.com/p8X5sTNoGN— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) April 21, 2021
Previously, teams were allowed to have either 10 or 11 men in the setup zone to give them a shot at recovering the kick, and teams rolled out 10 players 87% of the time. As ProFootballTalk notes, that number is now limited to 9, effectively giving receiving teams 1-2 fewer players in an excellent position to recover. The numbers still favor recovering teams—kicking teams have to line up five players on either side of the kicker and can’t start moving until the ball is kicked—but clearly the league is hope onside kick attempts and success will rise because of how absurdly futile the play has become. A year ago per The Football Database, there were 62 onside kick attempts and only 3 were successful, including the deeply unfortunate Dallas attempt that the Falcons screwed up.
The player who might benefit from this rule change more than just about anyone else is, of course, Younghoe Koo. Over the past two seasons, Koo owns 3 of the NFL’s 11 successful onside kick attempts, and that number would be higher if not for penalties erasing a couple of tries. The quality and aggressiveness of the special teams players around Koo make a difference there, but he’s shown an uncanny knack for putting his onside kick attempts where the Falcons have a real shot at recovering them, and his 3 for 5 success rate over the past two years trails only Houston kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn, who is 2 for 3.
In a year where the defense figures to be shaky no matter how good Dean Pees is as the team’s new defensive coordinator, this rule change could have the Falcons and Koo attempting more onside kicks, especially if the offense can return to being at least a quasi-juggernaut. We don’t yet know how significant the difference will be with one less player in the setup zone for receiving teams, but if I had one of the best kickers in the league and way more trust in my offense than my defense, I know I’d be eager to find out.