Skip to main content

John Harbaugh Expects 'Unintended Consequences' From Kickoff Rule Change

WR Devin Duvernay
WR Devin Duvernay

The Ravens were among the teams that voted against the NFL's new fair catch rule on kickoffs. Let the record show that Head Coach John Harbaugh is predicting negative consequences after its adoption.

Harbaugh, who has a background as a longtime special teams coach with the Philadelphia Eagles, said last week that the Ravens "thought there were better ideas" for continuing to make the game safer by preventing concussions while still preserving kickoffs.

The rule change puts the ball at the 25-yard line if the receiving team fair catches the kickoff (or safety kick) inside its own 25-yard line. Harbaugh anticipates the play will create more high-speed trauma, and he elaborated on his belief in an interview on “The Rich Eisen Show.”

"I think there's always the law of unintended consequences," Harbaugh said. "Just to assume that because the ball is popped up and somebody fair catches it there's going to be less helmet-to-helmet speed collisions, I think, is very wishful thinking. The coaches that understand how the play is really played out expressed pretty clearly that we think it's not going to be a safer play.

"The difference between the college game and the pro game is the kickers can kick it higher and the players can run faster. So those balls are going to be hit high and the players are going to get down there underneath it. When a fair catch happens late, nobody is going to stop playing because the fair catch is going to be late in the play. There's going to be a lot of contact that's going to happen on those fair catches."

Even if it's not contact to the returner, it could be additional hits that his blockers are taking because the kicking team is not sure whether a fair catch will be called or not.

In addition to more pop-ups, Harbaugh also expects to see a wider variety of other kicks, including more squib kicks. Essentially, teams will try to "create havoc around the ball."

"There will be a lot of collisions in front of the ball for that reason," Harbaugh said. "You will see the ball in the ground more, slopping around."

Harbaugh also expects teams will try to return shorter kicks when they think they have a chance to get the ball at least past the 25 and perhaps break a long return.

The Ravens have long been one of the league's top special teams units in the league, and they have back-to-back Pro Bowl returner Devin Duvernay. So, while the league is trying to further reduce the number of returns, it may end up creating more if teams kick the ball short.

"If they kick it to the 10, all they have to do is go 15 yards to get it past the 25. If they kick it to the 15, all they have to do is go 10 yards to get it past the 25," Harbaugh said. "A good special teams group is going to be confident in their ability to do that."

Harbaugh and the Ravens were far from the only ones that opposed the idea. Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid, a mentor of Harbaugh's from their time together in Philadelphia, said "you don't want to take too many pieces away or you'll be playing flag football."

The new rule is in place for one year, putting it up for review next offseason. For now, the Ravens will adjust and look for ways to thrive.

"If it ends up being good for the game, great. If it doesn't end up being good for the game, I'm sure it won't get voted back in next year," Harbaugh said. "We'll see how it goes and we'll continue to try to teach football the most effective way possible, the safest way possible like we always do as coaches, and we'll see how it works out."

Related Content