You might have missed the Buffalo Bills experimenting a bit with kickoffs in their second preseason game, what with Mitch Trubisky beating the snot out of his former team and all. So if you did miss it, Tyler Bass kicked a couple balls toward the corner, not quite into the end zone. It looked like this...
This particular kick was returned to about the 30-yard line, meaning it wasn’t actually a very successful one. And there’s a risk that the ball could go out of bounds and be a penalty I suppose. Maybe they shouldn’t be doing this. On the other hand...math! And logic!
We know Tyler Bass can kick it out the back of the end zone, guaranteeing the ball comes back to the 25. If you’ve watched the NFL the last few seasons, you might have noticed that there seems to be a benefit to tempting the other team to return the ball. Current league rules don’t favor the return game. A ball starting a yard or two into the end zone is all too commonly one that doesn’t make it back to the 25. A touchback isn’t all that beneficial to field position.
Let’s take a step back though, because I promised some math. Here are a few slides from that kickoff, and a very professional-looking diagram I drew to supplement it.
The first picture is just a reference point that kickoffs start at the 35-yard line. The second shows where Bass often kicks it (back of the end zone). The third shows where the ball landed (six-yard line). And the super-professional diagram is there to show that kicking it to the back of the end zone is a 75-yard kick, whereas the one we saw in the GIF above is about 64 yards.
Now for more math. If Bass continues to practice these and starts dropping the ball close to the goal line the math works out to about a 70-yard kick. Why the fancy diagram? To prove that despite the angle making the kick longer, it’s well within Bass’s range. A 70-yard kick straight ahead would put the ball in the middle of the end zone, which isn’t likely to be taken out.
But that same 70-yarder toward the edge is right at the goal line, creating that temptation to return it. Bass could also try to go for a 71- or 72-yard kick, which not only would have similar temptation, but guarantee a penalty won’t be in play.
You might be asking; “Why kick a 70-yarder to the corner rather than a 65-yarder straight ahead?” And I’d answer; “hang time.” Unfortunately this isn’t as well-tracked in the NFL as I’d like. I’d wager that for many kickers, they’re using a lot of leg to get it to 75 yards and out of the end zone like Bass often does. That means they may be sacrificing a higher arc and therefore hang time to get that distance.
In Bass’s case, he seems to knock the ball out of the end zone fairly easily. I’d further wager that the extra five or six yards to kick it to the corner doesn’t tax his leg all that much. That should mean he can continue to get a high arc as well as the distance. It’s the best of all worlds. High arc, long distance, still tempting to take it out. Compressing the field might make it easier for the coverage unit as well.
That said, this is certainly a case of easier said than done. If Bass is capable of doing this consistently, and the Bills think there’s an advantage, I bet we see more of this in the approaching season.