FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who has been a vocal opponent to NFL rule changes regarding kickoffs, cited last week’s concussion sustained by Denver Broncos cornerback Kayvon Webster when discussing how altering rules in hopes of producing more touchbacks doesn’t eliminate concussions.
“I’d say last week was a good example of some of the big proponents of ‘we want more touchbacks.’ We saw a pretty big concussed play with a touchback,” Belichick said at the end of his Friday news conference, when asked how a rule change to spot the ball at the 25 on touchbacks this season has affected play this season.
“Part of the touchback is ‘We think everybody is really not playing at the same speed because we think it’s a touchback, it’s going to be no play.’ But as a coverage team, you don’t know for sure the guy isn’t coming out or not, so you’re playing it at full speed. So some of the concussions and some of the injuries look to me like they come on touchbacks.”
Webster, who has since been placed on injured reserve, was covering a touchback when he absorbed a big hit from Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Terrance Smith in the second quarter of Sunday night’s 33-10 Chiefs win.
The kickoff was about 8 yards deep in the end zone. Webster, a team captain, was ultimately helped to the front seat of a cart and taken to the locker room.
“We want more touchbacks, but is that really solving the problem here as it’s been presented by the competition committee? I think you know how I feel about it,” Belichick said. “We’ll see how smart some of that really is to address the problem that we think is being addressed.
“It seems like football, we have a pretty good game here. Been that way for a long time. The kicking game is a great part of our game. But we have a lot of people that feel like the game has to be changed, so we’ll have to see how all that turns out. I don’t know what all the numbers are, I can’t tell you for sure."
Those numbers specific to returns and touchbacks, per ESPN.com NFL national writer Kevin Seifert:
2015 through 16 games (with touchback at 20-yard line)
41.3 percent of kickoffs returned
55.7 percent touchbacks
2016 through 16 games (with touchback at 25-yard line)
39.5 percent of kickoffs returned
57.6 percent touchbacks