NFL Owners passed five safety regulations last Tuesday during their annual meeting. These new safety regulations are focused on making the game safer for players both administering and receiving the hit. Many of these new regulations are aimed at eliminating most of the big hits that fans are accustomed to seeing.
Now on onside kickoffs, the kicking team will no longer be able to overload one side of the ball. The new rule states that “at least four players of the kicking team must be on each side of the kicker, and at least three players must be lined up outside each inbounds line, including one who must be outside the yard-line number.” This new rule will make it harder for players to administer the kinds of hits that usually jar the ball loose, make gang tackling and stripping tougher, and will put an emphasis on the kicker’s ability to place the ball more precisely.
On kick returns, the return team can no longer form a wedge to block for the returner. The new rule will be enforced when “three or more players line up shoulder to shoulder within 2 yards of each other to lead the blocking,” and will be enforced from the spot of the wedge. This rule will effect some teams more than others. This rules puts more of an emphasis on the return team being able to hold their individual blocks and not just being able to power the return back.
Two of the other rule changes deal with contact with receivers. First, receivers will now get personal foul penalties if a player delivers a blind side block to the head of a defender using his helmet, forearm, or shoulder (The Keith Rivers Rule). Second, if a defender hits a defenseless receiver going over the middle of the field (or in any spot where he appears defenseless) in the head or neck with the forearm or shoulder, it will be a personal foul. This rule is an extension of the previous rule, which states you cannot hit a defenseless receiver with a helmet hit.
Finally, defenders who are knocked to the ground can no longer lunge into quarterbacks if the play is still going on (The Tom Brady Rule). Although I do agree with protecting the quarterback, I’m not so sure how effectively enforced this rule will be. I have a feeling it will be like a couple of years ago where players would have quarterbacks wrapped up and then stop thinking that they would get called for unnecessary roughness penalties, while the quarterbacks scrambled away to continue the play. Where do you draw the line between a player trying to get back into the play after being knocked down around the quarterback and a player lunging into the quarterback?
On another note, officials will be focusing more on horse collar tackles this year. Even though the number of horse collar penalties and fines went up in the last year, the NFL Owners felt that the rule has not deterred the tackle enough.