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Inside the Numbers Behind why the Onside Kick Needs to go

Inside the Numbers behind why the Onside Kick needs to go

Experts have widely regarded the onside kick as one of the most foolish parts of football. The strategy has become even more difficult after the NFL imposed a rule change in 2018 which has caused onside kick recoveries to decline drastically.

Onside kicks are mostly seen at the end of games when teams try to fight for their last chance. However, this last “ditched effort” is something that has made games less exciting. 

“Earlier in the season, my team the Chicago Bears needed to recover an onside kick late in the game to mount a comeback, but of course we failed,” said Bears superfan Brett Haman. 

In the 2020-2021 NFL season, there were a total of 71 onside kicks attempted during the regular season. A whopping three of those kicks succeded. That makes for a success rate of just 4.23 percent. This success rate was the lowest in NFL history. 

Why has the Onside Kick become so difficult to recover?

“The rule change that makes team stick to five guys on each of the kicker limits the element of surprise and gives the advantage to the recovery team,” said VP/Head of Sports Content at The Game Haus Joe DiTullio. “They {the receiving team} knows that they will have enough people to block and recover the kick.” 

Onside kicks really only benefit one side, the receiving team. During the 2018 season (the last season before the new rule change), teams recovered an onside kick on 12 of 57 attempts, which correlated to a success rate of 21 percent. 

However, the following season, onside kick recoveries saw a huge decrease. Out of 79 attempts during the 2019 season, only five of them were recovered. This resulted in just a 6 percent success rate, the lowest rate that the NFL saw at that time. 

As a result of what the NFL tried to change on onside kicks, the probability of recovering one dropped from 13 percent to 9 percent. 

How can the NFL make sure onside kicks succeed more?

The only way for the NFL to fix this rule is to completely get rid of it. The NFL can’t eliminate the new rules that they added due to safety reasons. However, there can be alternatives to replace it. 

During the 2019 offseason, the Denver Broncos proposed an alternative to the onside kick. They proposed that teams must convert a fourth and 15 from their own 35-yard line.  If they can succeed this, the team gets the ball where the play ends. 

When looking at a great sample size, during the 2017 NFL season, teams that faced a third and 15, converted 16 percent of the time. Teams succeed 23 times on 141 attempts. 

It’s difficult to convert long-down scenarios and the success rate isn’t a whole lot better. However, it does give teams a better opportunity to fight back. It’s unlikely that the NFL will make any changes to the outside kick, but when they do, it will make NFL games much more exciting. 

“Onside kicks don’t do much for the game,” said Cowboys fan Nicholas Pollizze. “If I was an NFL owner, I would be on the phone with the commissioner right now proposing different ideas, that’s how awful onside kicks are.”

Image Courtesy of Getty Images

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