Kansas City Chiefs assistant head coach and special teams coordinator Dave Toub isn’t a fan of how the NFL has decided to handle kickoffs in 2023. Under the new rule, the receiving team can fair catch the ball anywhere behind the 25-yard line and get the ball at the 25.
“I don’t like it,” said Toub during Thursday afternoon’s presser with the media. “It’s not something we’re happy about.”
NFL special teams coaches offered alternatives to the rule
Toub was part of a committee of special teams coaches who traveled to NFL offices in New Jersey to review game film and develop ideas for kickoff rule changes they believed were superior to the fair catch rule.
“We advised them that [the new rule] wouldn’t be something that would probably make the play safer,” explained Toub. “It’s well-documented... but they passed it. I mean, there’s a lot of reasons why. [Concussion] numbers were up, and you have to do something, and I understand that.”
There was just one small problem with this meeting, as Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio reported last week that the head of the NFL competition committee and president of the Atlanta Falcons, Rich McKay, was not in attendance.
“That’s an issue because, as the source also explained it, the rulemaking function has evolved to the point where it’s basically Commissioner Roger Goodell and McKay setting the agenda and calling the shots.”
Chiefs plan to stay aggressive
Toub had a simple message when he was asked how the Chiefs will approach kickoffs this year.
“How are you going to score a touchdown if you don’t return it?”
There will be situations where the Chiefs will use the fair catch rule to their advantage, but don’t expect it to be the norm.
“If we’re up in a game, for instance,” started Toub, “and we don’t want to take a shot on goal because they kick the ball to us, and it might be better for the team just to fair catch it and take it out the 25, we’ll do it, but it’s not something that we’re going to do a lot.
“We’re going to be aggressive.”
Toub explained that everybody has to be on the same page in their plan.
“You can’t have it both ways,” said Toub. “They have to think that you’re coming out with it every time. If they’re looking back to see if he’s (the return man) going to fair catch it or not. The guy (opposing player) is running by him, and you have nothing.
“It has to be one or the other.”
There is only one way to make kickoffs safer
This new rule is the latest domino in a long chain of events.
In 2012, New York Giants co-owner John Mara, a member of the NFL’s competition committee, said that the NFL was “evolving toward” eliminating kickoffs from football. In 2016, Mara dubbed the kickoff “the most dangerous play we have in the game.”
Toub said that, in his opinion, if the NFL is serious about making kickoffs safer, then coaches around the league need to be united in coaching players with appropriate tackling techniques.
“What we have to do as coaches across the board offense, defense and special teams is teach players to keep their heads out of the tackling.
“Most of the concussions happened [when] the kickoff team guys [are] coming off a block and then throwing their head in front of a returner, and they were getting concussions. So we have to do a better job coaching the head out of the game. If we do that, we’ll get the numbers down to a reasonable number.”
Part of the reason Toub doesn’t think that fair catches will make the game any safer is that just because a player signals for a fair catch doesn’t mean that the play is over. The kick returner still has to secure the ball.
“If you drop the ball, it’s a free ball,” said Toub. “So the guys are going to be covered until that ball is caught. So that’s not going to change. It’s still going to be a physical play.”
Removes strategy from the game
Toub went on to explain that with this new rule change, the league is removing an important aspect of strategy from the game, especially in late-game scenarios and for teams playing from behind.
“If you’re a team that’s trying to get back into the game — like you’re behind and you’re on kickoff, and you’re trying to create a turnover, try to pin a team, make them go the long distance.
“One of the strategies was to kick it high and try to tackle them inside the 10, maybe make them force them to return it. Maybe, [you could] force a turnover. They have to maybe cause a penalty — maybe a fumble or whatever — and get the ball back.
“That was a huge strategy. So it was a big strategic thing that was taken away from us as special teams coaches.”