INDIANAPOLIS – John Park, the Colts' new analytics guru hired earlier this offseason, is busy at work right now.
The assignment for Park is exploring just how teams are reacting to the new touchback rule, which moved touchbacks up to the 25-yard line this season (from the 20-yard line).
For the Colts, they are in a unique situation with kickoff man Pat McAfee.
Last year, McAfee set an NFL record by recording touchbacks on 90.5 percent of his kickoffs.
But this preseason, the Colts have asked the Boomstick to keep his weapon of a right leg dialed back a bit.
For two reasons:
-First, the Colts want to see live tackling this preseason as they try to evaluate some possible keepers for core special teamers. -Second, the Colts have a kicker with the ability to pin teams deep near the goal line, allowing them to use the preseason as a case study for what teams might try this fall.
Let's let McAfee explain his thoughts on the rule change impacting how teams handle kickoffs.
"Field position is everything," McAfee says explaining the difference between drive starts leading to points from the 20 versus the 25-yard lines. "If you look at the stats, the percentages of teams that score inside their 10, inside their 20, inside their 25 are drastically different than if they start outside the 30.
"It's kind of a hidden stat, but we're trying to steal yards instead of just giving it to them at the 25. Trying to get them inside the 20. So far we have done pretty well."
The Colts have done well in experimenting with hanging kickoffs near or just past the goal line.
McAfee starts things and the coverage units have finished them off after two preseason games.
"We've covered 10 kickoffs in the preseason we've got a minus-19-yard drive start, which, if you average that at the end of the year, that would be really, really good," Chuck Pagano says.
"If we wanted to, we could kick that thing out the back of the end zone, I think everybody understands that. But we're not just going to give up a 25-yard line drive start."
So far this preseason, the Colts have allowed an average drive start of the 19.5-yard line in covering 10 kickoffs.
If this trend continues, the Colts will certainly have to look into having the talented McAfee adjust his kickoff method this season.
"I'm trying to hit a high ball that is coverable for our guys," McAfee said of changing up his kickoffs this preseason.
"Trying to make the returner have to make a decision whether to stay in or come out. Mostly just give hang time for guys, who are freak athletes, to get down the field and make a tackle and hopefully set up our defense with good field position."
A creative twist on some of my favorite images from the Ravens game.