How to fix the NFL: Eliminate kicking

ProFootballTalk reported Monday that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was considering eliminating the extra point. He cited its success rate 99.6 percent as the main factor and that an extra point is “automatic.”

He’s right. Watching extra points is, as Peter King of Sports Illustrated called it, “the biggest waste of time in American sports.”

New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski also broke his arm on a meaningless extra point in 2012. That was a freak occurrence, but it still happened, and if players are getting injured on a meaningless play, maybe the play shouldn’t be there at all.

So the NFL is on the right track. Goodell’s idea for the play in lieu of the extra point is making a touchdown worth seven points, unless the teams elect to try for an eighth point. If teams miss, then the touchdown was worth only six in the first place.

Confusing, right? Simplify it.

Make touchdowns worth six points, always. Then make teams go for two every time. No option to kick, make the team snap the ball from the 2-yard line and punch it in for two points.

There is no play in football as exciting as a two-point conversion. So get rid of the most boring play in the game, and replace it with the most exciting play, every time.

At least the NFL is trying to fix the game. But it needs to go even further. Eliminate not only the extra point, but field goals as well.

Despite what the name might suggest, kicking should have very little effect on the outcome of a football game.

For 59 minutes and 57 seconds, real football positions quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, linemen, linebackers, safeties decide the score of a game. Then with three seconds left, some guy off the bench will come in, boot it a third of the length of the field, and that’s the game.

Need an example? This season two playoff games had “game-winning” drives that had very good quarterbacks yield to players whose names an average fan does not know.

The New Orleans Saints’ game-winning drive in their wild-card game against the Philadelphia Eagles consisted of a 34-yard drive and a Shayne Graham 32-yard field goal.

The San Francisco 49ers’ game-winning drive in their wild-card game against the Green Bay Packers consisted of a 65-yard drive and a Phil Dawson 33-yard field goal.

Combined, those two game-winning drives totaled 99 yards, equal to what a real game-winning drive should be.

Personally, I would have rather seen Drew Brees and Colin Kaepernick finish what they started in those drives. But no, we were treated to the legendary Graham and Dawson being put in the position where they single-handedly decide a playoff game.

In Super Bowl XLVIII on Feb. 2, I want to see Russell Wilson and Peyton Manning duke it out. If I don’t see Steven Hauschka or Matt Prater at all, that’s fine by me.

Speaking of Matt Prater…

Remember “Tebowmania” a few years ago and how Tim Tebow was credited with being the savior? It was Prater who, on Dec. 11 against the Chicago Bears, kicked a 51-yard field goal to win the game in overtime, which was preceded by a 59-yard kick with three seconds left in regulation to tie it.

On that 59-yarder, the Broncos started that drive from their own 20. They kicked from the Chicago 42-yard line. That means that in order to drive down the field and tie the game, the Broncos need to go just 48 yards. Less than half the field. That’s absurd.

Oh, and Prater also holds the record for longest kick in NFL history: 64 yards.

That’s nothing against Prater he is a very good kicker. Too good.

When Bob Gibson finished the 1968 baseball season with a 1.12 ERA, capping the “Year of the Pitcher,” MLB lowered the mounds from 15 inches to 10 inches to make the game more fair.

MLB changed its rules because one group of players, pitchers, were too good. It’s time for the NFL to do the same. Kickers are too good. If a drive starts at the 20-yard line because of a touchback, the team realistically needs to go 50 yards, to the opposite 30, in order to have a better-than-50-percent chance at three points.

So extra points and field goals are gone. Next to go are kickoffs.

Kickoffs start the game and reset after a score. They are also the most dangerous play in the sport.

Defenders get an entire field to build up the speed to run full-speed into the return man. Most of the gunners get stopped by blockers, who could also get hurt on the play, but if someone picks up enough speed and gets through unblocked, they could do some serious damage to the return man.

So how do we fix this one? Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano has the answer.

Instead of kicking off after a score, the team that just scored gets the ball at its own 30-yard line facing a 4th-and-15. It then has the option of going for it or punting the ball away. Essentially, punting would replace the kickoff.

Here’s why it works. The punt is a far less dangerous play, but more importantly, it gives the offense a realistic chance to win.

I’ll give a hypothetical: The Seahawks are leading the Broncos 28-6 in the Super Bowl with eight minutes left in the game. The Broncos drive down field in three minutes, score a touchdown, then convert for two points (because there are no PATs now).

It’s now 28-14, but under the old rules the Broncos would have to rely on a Matt Prater onside kick to get the ball back. Instead, Peyton Manning takes the 4th-and-15 snap and finds Julius Thomas for the first down. The Broncos use another three minutes and score and convert again at the two-minute warning. 28-22.

No onside kick, just Peyton Manning finding Eric Decker for the first down. They drive downfield and win the game.

In this scenario, it takes the fluky onside kick play out of the equation. It’s not up to Prater and the hands team for both sides. Instead it’s in the hands of Manning and the Seahawk defense to decide the game.

That, right there, is how football should be.

Well actually, while we’re at it, I’d like to humbly propose we change the name as well.

The game is so minimally played with the foot (even less if these changes are adopted) that the name is outdated. “Football” is soccer.

One of my colleagues suggested we call start calling the game “blitzball.” It works for a few reasons, even if the name may have been used before. But hey, “football” had already been used, too.

First, the blitz is (or should be) far more instrumental to the sport than a kick. It’s also something that would be unique to the game.

Second, it would eliminate the confusion when discussing soccer. We would no longer need the qualifier “American” football, because our game is called blitzball. Give it up, Americans, they were calling it football way before we started calling it soccer.

Thirdly, blitzball just sounds so much cooler.

I love watching football as much as anyone. Football is the most popular sport in America for a reason: It’s awesome.

But that doesn’t mean it can’t be better. Everything can improve, and improving the game of football starts with getting rid of kicking.

 

Reach the columnist at justin.emerson@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @J15Emerson