Each year the NFL rulesmakers tweak the rules in most part to address situations that arose during the season and, at least lately, to improve player safety. The changes often take two forms: a) new or revised rules and b) changes to the wording contained in the rule book intended to clarify existing rules. [A further mechanism are the Points of Emphasis that that are issued to the officials and shared with the team to highlight situations that require further attention from the officials. One such situation last year was the setting of picks by offensive receivers that should be (and were) called as Offensive Pass Interference.] Given the number of such changes this year, I will address them in two separate postings.
Specifically, the rules changes are as follows:
4-5-1 and 4-6-5 - Makes it a foul for delay of game when a team timeout is erroneously granted.
5-3-3 Permits the offensive and defensive play callers to use coach-to player communication system regardless of whether they are on the field or in the coaches’ booth.
8-1-8 Eliminates the five-yard penalty for an eligible receiver illegally touching a forward pass after being out of bounds and reestablishing himself inbounds, and makes it a loss of down.
11-3-1 and 2 Line of scrimmage for Try Kicks permanently moved to the defensive team’s 15-yard line.
11-6-3 Spot of the next snap after a touchback resulting from a free kick is moved to the 25-yard line.
12-2-3 Makes all chop blocks illegal.
12-2-15 Expands the horse-collar rule to include when a defender grabs the jersey at the name plate or above and pulls a runner toward the ground.
12-4-1 A player who is penalized twice in one game for certain types of unsportsmanlike conduct fouls is disqualified from that game.
14-5-2 Eliminates multiple spots of enforcement for a double foul after a change of possession.
Although there are many (but not this writer or the officials) that claim that the NFL Rule Book is overly complex, the rules are written to address specific situations that have occurred in the past and to eliminate the need for officials to use their judgment when such situations arise. As such, I personally have no problem with the changes that have been implemented this season or the nature of the Rule Book as a whole.
The following looks at each of the above changes (and others) in greater detail.
In an obvious response to the "deflategate" situation, it is now indicated that "Each team will make 12 primary and 12 backup balls available for testing by the Referee no later than two hours and 30 minutes prior to the starting time of the game to meet League requirements." After testing (and the results recorded), the balls will be marked and maintained under control of a league representative until the start of the game.
As was discussed in the previous posting, the words of the rule involving a completed pass have been tweaked to indicate: "Possession of Loose Ball. To gain possession of a loose ball that has been caught, intercepted, or recovered, a player must have complete control of the ball and have both feet or any other part of his body, other than his hands, completely on the ground inbounds, and then maintain control of the ball long enough to become a runner. A player has the ball long enough to clearly become a runner when, after his second foot is on the ground, he is capable of avoiding or warding off impending contact of an opponent, tucking the ball away, turning up field, or taking additional steps. If the player loses the ball while simultaneously touching both feet or any other part of his body to the ground, there is no possession. This rule applies in the field of play and in the end zone."
Associated with the above rule is the following: "A player is considered to be going to the ground if he does not remain upright long enough to demonstrate that he is clearly a runner. If a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass (with or without contact by an opponent), he must maintain control of the ball until after his initial contact with the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone. If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regains control, the pass is incomplete. If he regains control prior to the ball touching the ground, the pass is complete."
In an attempt to clarify the conditions for "Intentional Grounding," it is now indicated that: "If a Team B player contacts the passer or the ball after forward movement begins, a forward pass is ruled, regardless of where the ball strikes the ground or a player. When this occurs, intentional grounding rules do not apply. If a Team B player contacts the passer or the ball before forward movement begins, the direction of the pass is the responsibility of the passer, and grounding rules apply." The gist of the change is to indicate that the passer cannot be held responsible for where the ball lands if he is contacted in the course of the throwing motion or if the ball is touched by the defense.
Intentional Grounding is also addressed by another word change as follows: "It is a foul for intentional grounding if a passer, facing an imminent loss of yardage because of pressure from the defense, throws a forward pass without a realistic chance of completion. A realistic chance of completion is defined as a pass that is thrown in the direction of and lands in the vicinity of an originally eligible receiver." If this rule is enforced properly, it will eliminate the situation where the QB throws the ball into the third row of the stands either along the sidelines or in the back of the end zone. It will, however, continue to be a judgment call regarding what constitutes "the vicinity" of the receiver. Expect to see the covering official conversing with the Referee before a flag is thrown.
Following up on an incident last season where an Assistant Coach got into a shouting match with opposition players during an injury timeout, it is now specifically indicated that only "The Head Coach may enter the field to check on the welfare of a player who is injured, but no assistant coach may enter the field."
In response to the flap during the Super Bowl when the tossed coin did not turn over in the air (and was subsequently correctly re-tossed by the Referee), wording has now been added to specifically address such a situation: "If the coin does not turn over in the air or the toss is compromised in any way, the Referee shall toss it again. The captain’s original call may not be changed."
To address a situation that occasionally occurs when the officials acknowledge a request for a time-out even though the requesting team has no time-outs left, wording has now been added to indicate: "When a team is granted a second timeout during the same dead-ball period, or a timeout after exhausting its three timeouts during a half: Loss of five yards. Note: If an attempt is made to call a timeout in such situations, the officials shall not grant it, and play will continue. A penalty shall be enforced only if the timeout is erroneously granted. After enforcement, all normal rules regarding the game and play clock will apply."
Although many teams followed the practice of huddling on or near the sideline after a timeout or turrnover, such a practice made it difficult for the defense to adjust before the ball was initially snapped. The rules now indicate that: "Following a timeout or change of possession, the offense may huddle outside the numbers near its bench area, but will not be allowed to line up and snap the ball before the defense has an opportunity to match personnel. "
Last year while playing for the Packers, James Jones wore a hooded sweat shirt under his uniform and there were questions regarding whether he could be tackled by the hood during the course of the game. The rules have now been revised to indicate: "Players may not wear undergarments with an exposed hood hanging outside the collar of the jersey."
For many years the rule book allowed a runner to give himself up by intentionally sliding to the ground and making no effort to continue. Typically this occurred when the offensive team wanted to stop a play towards the end of the game to allow them to call a time out or when the QB decided he had gained enough yardage and wanted to avoid being hit. However, it was unclear whether a player giving himself up other than a QB was entitled to protection from being hit once he went to the ground. The rules now make it clear that the rule applies to all runners not just a QB: "A defender must pull up when a runner begins a feet-first slide. This does not mean that all contact by a defender is illegal. If a defender has already committed himself, and the contact is unavoidable, it is not a foul unless the defender makes forcible contact into the head or neck area of the runner with the helmet, shoulder, or forearm, or commits some other act that is unnecessary roughness."
There are a number of wording changes related to what players may or may not do when lined up to avoid a false start call. These include:
" If all 11 offensive players have been set for at least one full second, and an eligible receiver who is on the line of scrimmage moves forward, it is a False Start, regardless of whether the action is quick and abrupt or slow and deliberate.".
"With the game clock running inside one minute of either half, if all 11 offensive players are not set simultaneously for one full second prior to the snap, it is a False Start."
"All offensive players are required to come to a complete stop and be in a set position simultaneously for at least one full second prior to the snap. Failure to do so is an Illegal Shift. "
The major change here is the inclusion of the words "one full second" in the rule. Previously, the rule book indicated that the players had to come to a complete stop but the duration of the stop was not defined. With this new addition, expect to see additional false start calls at least early in the season.
Prior to this year, if an eligible receiver went out of bounds and then returned and was the first to touch a pass, it was a five yard penalty at the previous spot. That rule has now been changed to make the penalty just loss of down at the previous spot (i.e., elimination of the yardage loss) as follows: "First touches or is caught by an eligible receiver who has gone out of bounds, either of his own volition or by being legally forced out of bounds, and has re-established himself inbounds. Penalty: Loss of down at the previous spot. "
The remaining rules changes will be addressed in next week's posting.