NFL owners are expected to vote Thursday on an onside kick alternative that would give teams the option to go for a 4th-and-15 from their own 25-yard line to retain possession.
If this passes, it’ll be good news for the Eagles.
Because while the rule is reportedly gaining steam among many NFL teams, there’s a reason the Eagles were the team that proposed this rule change.
It will give them an advantage for two main reasons:
1. The Eagles have an aggressive-minded head coach willing to buck convention
During his four years as head coach of the Eagles, Doug Pederson has gone for more 4th-down attempts than any other team. The Eagles have 99 total 4th down attempts in four years; the next closest team has 91. The Eagles have converted on 52.5% of those fourth down conversions.
And during the four years with Pederson as head coach, the Eagles have also gone for a league-high 28 two-point conversions. Pederson and the Eagles don’t care about conventional wisdom in the NFL; in fact, the organization believes a lot of league-wide thinking is outdated.
All this aggressiveness from Pederson is a combination of using analytics and pairing them with his gut feel depending on how his offense is performing.
If the Eagles didn’t think the analytics would tell them to go for an onside kick alternative at times, why would they propose it?
2. They have a quarterback with the ability to extend plays and make tough throws
Pederson and Carson Wentz have been together now for four seasons so, first, Pederson should have a perfect understanding of the kinds of plays to use with Wentz in these situations.
The great thing about Wentz, though, is his ability to create when a play breaks down. To pick up plays of 15-plus yards when the defense knows you need to gain 15 yards isn’t easy. But with a quarterback like Wentz, there are multiple chances on the same play. His ability to scramble and buy time will give his receivers chances to get open down the field. And Wentz then has the arm strength to get the ball to them in a hurry.
During his career, Wentz has gained first downs on 6 of 50 passing attempts on 3rd or 4th-and-15+, but those situations are different than this hypothetical one. We admittedly don’t have a ton of data to support the idea that he’ll be great in these situations. But use the eye test. He has a skillset that should allow him to make these plays.
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There are a few important notes and details about this rule proposal you need to know. These come from NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero and they will determine the way teams use this alternative if it passes.
• Teams can use the alternative onside kick twice in regulation and it doesn’t matter if they’re leading, trailing or tied.
• But no overtime. You can’t decide to forgo kicking off in OT, trying to keep the ball to win the game.
• It’s an untimed down but there is a play clock of 25 seconds.
• If the offense converts, it’s a first down and the drive keeps going. If the defense stops them, they get the ball back at the dead-ball spot.
• If a penalty occurs during or after a score (let’s say there’s an unsportsmanlike conduct) and it was scheduled to be enforced on the kickoff, it can be enforced on this untimed down. So if there’s an unsportsmanlike penalty, the kicking team could attempt a 4th-and-15 from their own 40-yard line instead of their own 25.
• If an offensive penalty occurs during the play, the kicking team can’t then change their mind and kick off. So if there’s an offensive holding, it could be 4th-and-25 from their own 15.
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We’ll find out soon enough if this proposal and some of the others on the docket pass this week. But in my mind, there’s no reason to prevent this rule from passing other than desire from some teams to keep things status-quo. This rule would be fun.
And, at least for now, the Eagles would probably be able to use it to their advantage.
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