Ex-special-teams coach Mike Westhoff: Move back extra points, narrow goal posts

Former New York Jets special-teams coordinator Mike Westhoff, who retired after the 2012 season, has turned down several opportunities to return to coaching. He enjoys his job as a TV and radio analyst, but there's more to it than that.

"The job I did doesn't exist today," he said in a phone interview. "What do you want me to coach, touchbacks? Not interested."

Westhoff is right. Rules changes have turned the kicking game into Special Teams Lite. By his count, there are only eight to 10 "action" plays per game, down from 18.

Specifically, the touchback rate reached an all-time high last season (50.3 percent), watering down one of the most exciting plays in the game -- the kickoff return. Westhoff built his reputation, in part, because of his uncanny success on kickoff returns. In 2012, the kickoff was moved out to the 35-yard line to reduce head injuries -- more touchbacks, fewer collisions -- although Westhoff suspects the concussion rate under the old rule wasn't as high as feared.

Now we have a new hot-button issue: What to do with the extra point?

Frankly, the PAT is a waste of time (a 99.3-percent success rate last season), so the league is exploring ways to improve what is now a non-competitive play. The competition committee expressed optimism at the league meetings earlier this week that a new PAT format will be approved by May.

You've heard the expression, "He outkicked his coverage." These days, kickers are outkicking the rules. They're too good.

"Kicking has become easier today," said Westhoff, who coached 30 years in the NFL. "The kickers are bigger, stronger and better athletes than before. We always used to picture a little soccer guy like Matt Bahr, but that's not true today. The kids are bigger and better. If you don't have a 90 percent [success] guy, you'd better have your eyes open."

Other factors have contributed, according to Westhoff: The snaps are almost always perfect. Long-snappers no longer have to worry about an opponent lining up directly over them -- another safety-related rule change. The "get-off" time on a placement has gone from 1.33 seconds to 1.23, per Westhoff's calculations, making it harder to block a kick.

Stadium configurations, too, have helped kickers. Westhoff recalled the old days at Giants Stadium, where the notorious wind was a huge factor. That's not the case at MetLife Stadium.

"Now," he said, "it's benign."

Westhoff is a traditionalist, but he believes it's "reasonable" to move PATs to the 15-yard line, which would create a 32- or 33-yard kick. That's one of the proposals on the table. Even that distance is a gimme for some kickers, as 10 teams converted 100 percent of their field goals in the 30-39 range last season.

He'd also like to see the goal posts narrowed by a yard, raising the degree of difficulty. Westhoff, who does some consulting on the side, brought that idea to the FXFL developmental league last year. The league liked it, he said, but it simply didn't have the money to change the goal posts.

Westhoff also has proposed the idea of a kicking hash for field goal attempts, creating "a slightly smaller target from slightly wider angle. That will bring kicking percentages back to where they should be and make it a little more difficult."

That, of course, would affect third-down play calling. Teams would be hesitant to run plays outside the hashmarks, knowing they'd have a tougher field goal if the ball ends up getting pushed out to the kicking hash.

Clearly, the league has a lot to consider, starting with the PAT. It's the most nondescript play in football, yet so complex. Westhoff is certain about one thing: He's not in favor of the nine-point play proposed by the Indianapolis Colts.

"That would junk up the game," he said. "It would create a carnival-type image."