NFL Close to Approving “4th and 15” Alternative to Onside Kicks

The change would allow teams who scored to attempt one play to keep the ball

NFL onside kick
Steven Terrell of the Kansas City Chiefs and Karl Joseph of the Oakland Raiders compete for an onside kick on December 10, 2017 in Kansas City.
Peter Aiken/Getty Images
By Luis Paez-Pumar / May 24, 2020 1:29 pm

The NFL is on the verge of changing one of the fundamental strategies for trailing teams ahead of the upcoming 2020 season. If a proposal gets approval from all relevant parties, teams will be able to choose to forego onside kicks twice per game in favor of a “4th and 15” play in hopes of retaining the ball.

The change would see the scoring team attempt to gain 15 yards in one play in order to keep the ball. The logic behind the change, beyond giving trailing teams a different way to keep the ball, is that this allows both teams to engage in a normal football activity, rather than the weirdness that can come from onside kicks. Offensive teams can really on their units that just scored, while defensive teams won’t have to rely on a good bounce from the onside kick to stop their opponents.

As NBC Sports points out, this does put the defenses in a tough spot, though. Not only do they have to go back out onto the field for one more play after just surrendering a score, but if they fail to stop the offense from picking up the 15 yards, they will then have to go back out onto the field for another drive.

That should help increase the success odds for the offenses; onside kicks had a 16.3 percent success rate from 2013 to 2017, while plays in which an offense needed 15 yards for a first down succeeded 15.9 percent of the time during the same period. However, that does not account for how the new rule change would affect tired defenses, as well as the increases in offensive yardage in recent years, so the change should see more ball retention from scoring teams.

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