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John Harbaugh Explains Why New Kickoff Rule Favors Ravens and Steelers

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Pittsburgh Steelers HC Mike Tomlin Baltimore Ravens Head coach John Harbaugh

Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh recently spoke about the new kickoff rule, and how it’s an advantage for teams that run a 3-4 defense like the Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers. Harbaugh, who got his start in the NFL as a special teams coordinator with the Philadelphia Eagles, puts a big emphasis on special teams and it shows with his units in Baltimore, consistently being one of the best.

“It’s really subtle and very good point because you don’t have to run as much on kickoffs and kickoff returns. The 4-3 teams would always have a little bit of an advantage on special teams in those phases because they had one more guy that was a runner. The odd teams, like us and Pittsburgh, were a little bit disadvantaged because those big outside ‘backers weren’t those space-runner type of guys. Now, those big outside ‘backer-type guys are going to be more valued because they run five yards, but their length and their strength is going to be a big part of that play. We’re kind of looking forward to seeing how that plays out, but that’s going to be a big part of our evolution with the play, I guess you’d say,” Harbaugh said during Ravens rookie minicamp.

The new kickoff rule is based on one the XFL used for the last two springs. The ball is kicked off from the 35-yard line, like it is now, but instead of the kick coverage team being placed alongside the kicker, they are on the opposing 40-yard line. The blockers are lined up between the 30 and 35-yard line, 10 to 15 yards away.

Kicks must land inside the 20-yard line, and balls kicked into the end zone will now come all the way out to the 30-yard line, incentivizing teams to try to get the ball returned. Players can’t move until the ball is caught or hit the ground. Here’s an example of a touchdown returned by the San Antonio Brahmas last year.

On the same day that rule was passed by the league owner’s, the Steelers signed Cordarrelle Patterson, who’s arguably the greatest kickoff return man of all-time. He has nine such kickoff returns throughout his career, and he averages 29.3 yards per kickoff return.