NFL Offseason: Rules Update

It’s not super flashy, but I think a look at the rules changes adopted this offseason will be important.

Why?

Good question. Because the two major rule changes we’ve seen come down both benefit the offense, but more importantly, they both address major concerns from NFL fans.

The first is the helmet rule, enacted to help protect offensive players from concussions. While the rule is written more broadly, it does make illegal “leading with the helmet”, an attempt at eliminating helmet to helmet hits from the game. Roger Goodell called out defenders who use the helmet as a weapon: “Our focus is how to take the head out of the game and make sure that we’re using the helmet as protection, and it’s not being used as a weapon, and that’s the core of what we’re focused on…”. The new rule suggested by Coach Belichick to the league might not be perfect, but it does penalize what has previously been considered incidental contact. The fifteen-yard penalty can also include ejection, subject to video review, if the hit is deemed excessively violent. I’m not sure that the penalty is quite stiff enough, but if the ejection occurs each time an offensive player is concussed by this type of hit, at least we’re getting somewhere. The league has a long way to go on concussion issues, but I think the understanding that leading with your head must be eliminated from football at all levels is a good start.

We discussed numerous times this season how the confusing “catch rule” would likely be rewritten over the offseason. The ponderous definition of what constitutes a “catch”, coupled with hi-def-slo-mo replay has created more questions than answers for fans over the past few seasons. This week, the league rewrote its definition of a catch, in an attempt to streamline and simplify the process. Gone is the need to “possess the ball through the act of going to the ground”, as is the overly complex definition of “football move”. The act of taking a third step, or attempting to move the ball forward will deem the ball possessed and the receiver becomes a runner. While this sounds good in theory, and several notable “not-a- catch-catches” would be completions under this new definition, there’s a few problems. First, there’s always going to be a partisan element to the catch/no catch debate, so people will always complain when plays like these go to replay, no matter the result. That won’t change, no matter how much the league office hates the bad press and twitter fury. Secondly, this will more than likely result in more fumbles. Defenders will attempt to strip the ball as always, but since this rule turns receivers into runners sooner, it’s likely that many plays that were ruled incompletions in seasons past will need to be reviewed to make sure that they aren’t strip-fumbles. More reviews and fumbles. Sounds great.

At the end of the day, I guess it’s an improvement, but we’ll have to see how it plays out. The first time a game is decided on a questionable catch in the end zone is going to be interesting…

Image source: AP

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