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Fourth-and-15 onside kick alternative will test tired defenses

The NFL Competition Committee will vote on an alternative to onside kicks, and a 4th and 15 proposal is gaining steam.

Ever since the Commissioner first floated the fourth-and-15 kickoff concept in his 2012 Time “Enforcer” profile, it has seemed inevitable that it would make its way to the NFL.

It soon could, not as a replacement for the kickoff (yet) but as a twice-per-game alternative to the onside kick, which has become harder than ever to convert, thanks to changes to the kickoff formation that have removed the running start for the kicking team’s players.

Several years ago, someone asked Roger Goodell who he roots for. Said Goodell, “Whoever is trailing.” And it’s that mentality that compels the NFL to come up with ways to allow a team that is behind by multiple scores to close the gap in what otherwise would be a lost cause.

Despite the statistics regarding the usual success rate for fourth-and-15 plays in the normal course of a game, consider a factor that Simms previously mentioned on PFT Live as we discussed the merits, or not, of replacing the onside kick with a one-shot scrimmage play: When it’s time to line up for a fourth-and-15 play as the alternative to an onside kick, it will be the defense that just surrendered a score (possibly at the end of a long drive) that will have to suck it up for one more play. If they fail, they then get to stay out on the field and continue to be gashed while gassed.

Again, it’s good for the game because the team that’s trailing will have even more hope. There’s also something to be said for a team’s fate to be determined by the ability of the defense to make a stop and not the arbitrary bounce or hop or skip of an oblong leather ball.

Right or wrong, the time has come for the fourth-and-15 play. If passed this week, it likely will be a one-year experiment, with the possibility of permanence by 2021. If it sticks, there’s a possibility that it will spread, potentially replacing the kickoff in its entirety.