Did the Kickoff Rule Change Affect Offensive Stats?

In my previous post I mentioned how it bothers me when people say, "It's a passing league now." I agree that it's a passing league; I just think it's been a passing league for so long that it's pointless to point it out anymore. In the comments of that post people brought up some evidence about last year that they felt indicated that things have indeed changed.

Several people brought up the fact that three players threw for over 5,000 yards last season. I mentioned my theory that the new Kickoff Rule gave teams a few more opportunities to get over that hump to 5,000, for instance two players in 2010 were within 320 yards of 5,000.

*Interesting thing I found out while researching this #1 - While Matthew Stafford threw for over 5,000 yards last season, the Lions actually threw for under 5,000 as a team, which I'm assuming means his backups accounted for a fair amount of negative yards.*

Several people said they felt that was an interesting theory, others said they doubted it, some more said I was flat wrong. I'm not personally a fan of posts with more numbers than words (sorry, Momma...kidding) but here's some raw data:

In 2010 there were 1,971 Kickoff Return Attempts for a total of 45,420 yards and 23 Touchdowns.

In 2011 there were, 1,375 Kickoff Return Attempts for a total of 32,680 yards and 9 Touchdowns.

So, there were 596 fewer attempts for 12,740 fewer yards and 14 fewer Touchdowns.

*Interesting thing (to me at least) #2 - No team had under 1,000 return yards in 2010, in 2011 14 teams were under 1,000 including two teams under 600.*

Now, was there a difference in Total Offense last year? Yes, there was:

In 2010 there were 172,039 Total Yards.

In 2011 there were 177,579 Total Yards.

So, there were 5,540 more Total Yards last season.

What does all this mean? I can't tell you it means definitely that the somewhat increased passing statistics last season were due to the Kickoff change. As John Stephens, rightly pointed out in the comments of my previous post, taking away ST yards doesn't have to translate to Offensive yards and also doesn't have to translate specifically to Passing yards. And what's more, Return Yards dropped by over 12,000 and Total Offense only increased by over 5,500, so obviously it's not a yard for yard exchange. But...

This article shows, in my opinion, the most important statistic in regards to this topic:

"Expressed as a percentage, 53.4 percent of kickoffs were returned this season, a huge drop from 80.1 percent in 2010.

In a related note, touchbacks skyrocketed to 43.5 percent this season, more than two and a half times last year’s rate of 16.4 percent."

His numbers for Kickoff returns differ a little from mine. I got mine from espn's return stats and actually just counted them all up (I did that for all of the data because none of the stat sites seem to think someone wants to know one total for the entire nfl). So maybe my eyes got fuzzy or his data came from somewhere else but the difference wasn't huge. He also points out that teams this past season averaged, "189 possessions," which coupled with the almost 5 yard difference in average starting position after kickoff (I still can't confirm if this is after every kickoff or just the opening kickoff) accounts for the possibility of an additional, "888 possible yards per team." That fails to take into account how many of those possessions were not directly after a kickoff.

This is where I'd like to say, "In conclusion," but I can't say for sure what any of this means. Way more Touchbacks created slightly longer fields and fewer Returns for Touchdowns made for more Offensive opportunities to score but there are so many variables that it's impossible to know how much effect this rule change had, certainly not as big a change as the Mel Blount Rule. But I just think it's possible it had some effect or at the very least it's something interesting to keep in mind. All I really know for sure is that I'm sick of the phrase, "passing league."

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