Monday, March 18, 2013

Thoughts on Proposed NFL Rule Changes

By Adam Russell

When the NFL Competition Committee meets this week, they will be considering a handful of proposed rule changes. Most of the seven modifications make perfect sense, but a couple do not. Following is a brief rundown of the proposed changes and whether they seem to stem from common sense or simply from stupidity.

Starting with the sensible proposals, the one that is receiving the most attention is the revocation of the controversial "tuck" rule. This rule says that if a quarterback loses control of the football while attempting to bring it back to his body after an aborted pass attempt is an incomplete pass. To me, this has been one of the most ridiculous rules ever concocted by the NFL. Reason being is that, in my estimation, once a quarterback decides to not pass the ball and "tuck" it under to protect it, he has given up his passing status and becomes a runner. How a quarterback who clearly is not passing the ball can be gifted with an incompletion solely because his arm is still in motion doesn't make sense to me, and elimination of the rule does.

Another proposed rule change that makes perfect sense is one that would limit the number of players on the team defending a field goal or extra point to six on either side of the snapper. Since there are restrictions in place regarding formations on kickoffs and onside kicks, this seems to bring some consistency to the kicking game. Plus, with the kicking team having its own limits on the number of players on either side of the snapper, it makes things more fair and it might cause coaches to become more creative in their schemes to try and block field goal and point after attempts.

In the player safety arena, two proposed rules make sense in protecting players' legs. One would disallow offensive players to make cut blocks when facing their own goal line. Recent season-ending knee injuries to key defensive players prompted this proposal which makes perfect sense in keeping defensive players as safe as the league has tried to make offensive players. One problem, though, is that veteran players who have been ingrained to cut block defenders who make it around the pocket will have a tough time breaking that habit, so there probably will be many penalties and still a few injuries.

The other safety rule proposition that seems to make sense to me is requiring all players to wear knee and thigh pads. Skill players claim that the pads make them slower, but to me that's a copout. Players of yesteryear wore full pads and most of the speedsters didn't seem to have much difficulty outrunning their opponents. And if it keeps a back or receiver from getting a blown knee or thigh contusion from a defender's helmet or shoulder pad, then I think it's a good requirement.

One final proposed requirement is that teams must maintain their fields and have them in good shape for games. While this seems like a no-brainer, I could see some teams claiming "home field advantage" for keeping a sloppy playing surface and hope it plays in their favor against a team that's not used to playing on it. However, in this day and age of overblown player safety measures, this also makes sense from a safety standpoint. Players who were injured simply from making a bad cut or a foot slipping was one reason most teams got away from the evil Astroturf, and running those same risks due to a poorly kept natural surface seems to negate those efforts.

One proposed rule change that doesn't make a whole lot of sense is one that, to me, shouldn't have been a rule in the first place. This rule penalizes coaches who try to challenge a play when it can't be challenged, such as on scoring plays. However, in these specific instances, it doesn't make sense to me that a coach would be penalized if he tried to challenge a play that would be reviewed anyway. I mean, it's not like his attempting to challenge an already reviewable play is an attempt to affect the outcome of a game.

For example, a coach or player trying to call a timeout when there are none available is an obvious infraction. But what does it hurt if a coach throws the red flag and an official reminds him that the play is already automatically reviewed and to pick up his flag? Charging them a timeout or a 15-yard penalty if they have none seems a little harsh for attempting to make sure a questionable play gets reviewed.

The last rule change proposal seems to make no sense at all. Now, I understand its intent is to help protect offensive players from head injuries, but to try and legislate out an instinct that all ballcarriers have is asinine. The rule change would penalize ballcarriers who lower their heads and lead with the crown of their helmets against would-be tacklers outside the tackle box.

Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith called the league "insane" for proposing this rule change, and I can't say I disagree with him. This move is a natural defense mechanism hardwired into running backs and receivers, and even a few quarterbacks, and to penalize someone for doing what their body instinctively does when preparing for a collision is like trying to eliminate the stiff-arm or the hurdle.

Plus, how many "wrecking ball" backs and receivers of years past suffered head trauma from lowering their heads into a defender? Maybe I'm uneducated in this realm, but I haven't heard about Jim Brown or Larry Czonka or Earl Campbell suffering from the effects of concussions or other head injuries.

So while most of the changes being proposed make sense, a couple do not, at least to me. And while the NFL Competition Committee will have to use its best judgment in deciding which proposals to accept, and hopefully it will use common sense in rejecting those that seem to stem from a lack thereof.

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