Blocks like the one that ended Brian Cushing's season are now illegal (Getty Images)
Earlier on Tuesday, Shutdown Corner lamented the NFL's decision to crack down on celebrations, including "spinning" the ball, which the league classifies as "taunting". (On first downs, not touchdowns, though.)
In a video distributed to NFL teams, and posted online at the league's public relations website, cracking down on taunting penalties, which include "verbal abuse of an opponent", is one of three points of emphasis this season. The other "points of emphasis" for on-field officials this season involve:
• The enforcement of hits on players in the grasp, players whose forward progress has been stopped or contacting players who are already on the ground.
• Ball-carriers who grab and twist, turn or pull on an opponent's face mask, or grab the face mask and use it to control an opponent. Also, runners who deliver forcible blows to an opponent's head while attempting a stiff arm are subject to 15-yard penalties and potential discipline from the league office.
Back in March, NFL owners also approved a few rule changes. With the NFL regular season beginning in 30 days, and the preseason getting in full swing at the end of this week, here's a reminder of the new rules that will be in place in 2013:
• "Peel back" blocks are now illegal inside the tackle box. An example of an illegal peel-back block took place in a game between the Houston Texans and New York Jets on Oct. 8, 2012. Jets guard Matt Slauson delivered a low, peel-back block on Texans linebacker Brian Cushing, resulting in a torn ACL that ended Cushing's 2012 season. That incident took place just outside the tackle box, and a flag probably should have been thrown. The ambiguity of the location has been removed from the equation as these blocks are now illegal at any spot on the field. Penalties for this infraction will be a loss of 15 yards.
• Along the same "player safety" lines, it is now illegal for ball-carriers and tacklers to lead with the crown of their helmets when both players are outside of the tackle box. Here's how the new rule reads:
"It is a foul if a runner or tackler initiates forcible contact by delivering a blow with the top/crown of his helmet against an opponent when both players are clearly outside the tackle box (an area extending from tackle to tackle and from three yards beyond the line of scrimmage to the offensive team’s end line). Incidental contact by the helmet of a runner or tackler against an opponent shall not be a foul."
In the video distributed by the NFL, three elements must all be present for a flag to be thrown. The player must a.) line up his opponent, b.) lower his head and c.) deliver a forcible blow with the crown of his helmet.
• Long-snappers, while in the act of snapping the ball, are now considered defenseless players. Also, during a field goal or extra point attempt, the defense may not have more than six players on the line of scrimmage to either side of the long-snapper. These illegal formations will result in a five-yard penalty. Defensive teams can not push their teammates into the offensive formation on field goal or extra point attempts. Violations of this "unnecessary roughness" penalty will incur a 15-yard penalty from the previous spot. Defensive players are also prohibited from delivering blocks below the waist on punts, field goals or extra points. Delivering a "low block" is now a 15-yard penalty.
• The NFL has reminded players that "clear violations" of rules prohibiting contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless player will be considered for suspensions if a.) the play involves an unobstructed path to his opponent, b.) the opponent's position has not been significantly affected by any other player and c.) the contact was avoidable.
If there are mitigating factors, a player may not be face a suspension, but could still be fined. Players with repeat violations of rules pertaining to hits that violate player safety rules are subject to suspension even if mitigating factors in the hit are present.
• The NFL has also gotten rid of the "Tuck Rule", which passed by a 29-1 vote at the owner's meetings in March. The two teams that abstained were naturally the Oakland Raiders and New England Patriots, whose meeting in the divisional round of the 2001 AFC playoffs brought that obscure rule to the surface. Under the rule change, if a quarterback loses possession of the football while attempting to bring it back to his body, it will be ruled a fumble.
• A change to the replay rules will now allow a review to take place even if a coach attempts to challenge a play that is automatically reviewed by the replay official. Previously, if a coach threw a challenge flag on an automatically reviewable play, the team would be penalized 15 yards and no review would take place. Now, the offending team will be assessed a timeout (or a 15-yard penalty if the team has no timeouts remaining), but the play being challenged will still be reviewed.
NFL video from Yahoo! Sports:
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