Bill Belichick is more than the head coach of the New England Patriots. He is, among other things, a football historian and as such has a distinct understanding of why the sport has grown in popularity over the years. He also knows that changing the way the game is played may not always have a positive outcome.
While Belichick certainly favors changes that make the game more competitive, transparent and interesting to watch – thus his attempts to move back the extra point or install pylon cameras –, he has been critical of other changes; mostly those initiated by the NFL’s competition committee. It all started when the committee, which oversees and is also able to propose rule changes, went after the physical defensive play which helped the Patriots win their first two Super Bowls.
Naturally, New England’s head coach is not too fond of the committee’s ideas (and, in the case of the crack-down on physical play, underlying agenda). His final press conference leading up to today’s game against the Miami Dolphins served as another reminder of that.
Belichick was asked about the changes to the kickoff rules, which were implemented on the committee’s initiative. First, the kickoff-spot was moved from the 30- to the 35-yard line in order to increase the number of touchbacks. Then, the touchback moved from the 20- to the 25-yard line to further encourage receiving teams not to return the kick. However, this recent change also increased strategy and as a result did not substantially change the number of returns. While 2015 saw 63.5 per week, 2016 saw 61.1.
Even though he said that he has to look at final statistics once they become official, New England’s head coach is surely aware of this discrepancy. With this context in mind, Belichick’s remarks from Friday’s press conference are particularly critical of thr recent developments.
[...] I'd say last week was a good example though of some of the big proponents of ‘We want more touchbacks.' We saw a pretty big concussed play with a touchback. So part of the touchback is ‘Well, we think it's going to be a touchback so everybody's really not playing at the same speed because we think it's a touchback. It's going to be a no-play.' But then 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.
While some ideas work in theory, the practical, real life environment often looks different — and Belichick is aware of that as his example shows. The future Hall of Famer then went straight to the core of the issue: the competition committee.
So we want more touchbacks - is that really solving the problem here as it's been presented by the competition committee? I mean I think you know how I feel about it. We'll see how smart some of that has really been to address the problems that we think are being addressed. I don't know. It seems like football - we've got a pretty good game here. It's been that way for a long time. It seems like the kicking game has been a great part of our game. But I guess we have a lot of people that feel like the game needs to be changed, so I don't know. We'll have to see where all of that turns out. I don't know what all of the numbers are. I couldn't tell you for sure.
As he has shown multiple times in the past, Belichick cares about the state of football, the NFL and its future. And it is clear that devaluing the kickoff game is not how he envisions the game. Unfortunately, however, the competition committe has proven before that it sees things differently than the man who probably knows more about the game than anyone else.