NFL Offseason: Rules Update

Pass Interference Review

It’s been rumbling consistently for a few seasons now, and after the NFC Championship game lit the fuse, the explosive change coming down the pipeline was inevitable. Pass interference will be reviewable starting with the 2019 season. After the non-call that prevented New Orleans from closing the door raised the specter of impropriety in the Bayou and beyond, we all knew this would happen. Some concerns have been raised that it will prove impossible to judge intent by reviewing the tape. To these critics I say this: If it’s impossible for a referee to correctly call pass interference by watching a review from numerous angles and multiple speeds repeatedly, then it’s laughable to assume that the referees on the field can do so in real time. In other words, instant replay might not be perfect, but it will always, I repeat, always, be better than the alternative. Tennis is the sport that has done the best job of integrating modern technology into a more modern version of the game. Missed line calls have marred the sport since its inception, but they’ve been eradicated entirely by the “Hawkeye” system that acts as a digital backup to the court officials. Reviews are conducted quickly and efficiently, reversals are made, the game marches on. Does this new rule allowing review of pass interference open the floodgates for an ever-increasing list of plays in the NFL to be challenged? Yes. It sure does. And that’s a good thing. Get it right. TV audiences aren’t going to change the channel if there are one or two more review breaks in an NFL game.

Blindside Blocks

Some of the league’s most electric plays are punt returns that change the momentum of a game or wind up in the end zone. Unfortunately, they’re also among the game’s most dangerous. Since the kickoff rules have proven to be effective, punt returns cause more injuries on a percentage basis than any other type of play. A huge reason for this is the blindside block, where a defender is hit unaware from the side or behind while attempting to zero in on the returner. These types of blocks result in about a dozen concussions per year, among other injuries. It’s a play that’s generally unsafe and is exactly the type of hit that the league should be working to eradicate. While the focus of this rule change is to increase safety on kick and punt returns, the new rule isn’t limited to those plays specifically. The new rule looks to eliminate these blocks on all plays. It’s the next wave of injury-prevention rules that will continue to refine the game, but also soften it in the eyes of some fans, who see the diminished violence of the sport as a flaw of the game in these modern times. I admit, even for me, that there’s a certain voyeuristic thrill in watching the defender get squared up. It will take a little adjustment, but by comparison, I think last year’s helmet rule was a much harder pill to swallow. We’ll have a few early season games where big returns are called back, probably changing the momentum of at least one game. Commentators will question the necessity of the new rule. Fans of the penalized team will scream to the heavens about how the game has been ruined. But preventing hits to defenseless players is the necessary and obvious evolution of the sport. No amount of hand-wringing by old-timers and salty fans is going to change that.

Image Source: USA Today

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