March 26, 2009
After five safety-oriented rule changes were made on Tuesday, the NFL followed with six more rules changes on Wednesday that seem to address common sense. Let's take a look at all 11, starting with the common sense rules put on the books yesterday.
• Loose balls that could have been the result of a fumble or an incomplete pass are now subject to video review. Or, as it will forever be known, "The Hochuli Rule." In case it's slipped your mind, here's the play that caused it all. Hochuli blew the initial call, and couldn't go to the replay to get it right. Ed felt bad about it and his dog was moved to letter-writing, but now, with everything said and done, it turned out to be a no harm, no foul situation. The universe righted itself in Week 17, the better team won the division, the rule has been changed and the case is now officially closed.
• Video replay can be used to determine if a loose ball stayed in bounds or hit the sideline. This one stems from some weirdness in the NFC championship game when a kickoff was ruled to have gone out of bounds when it never had. I guess it's comforting to have the replay in place now, so we can correct any such errors, but you know what I'd have done to begin with? I'd have instructed officials that they shouldn't rule that a ball went out of bounds unless they actually saw a ball go out of bounds. Seems like we could've saved everyone some trouble here.
• No more rekicks after an illegal onsides kick (someone on the kicking team touches the ball before it travels the necessary 10 yards, etc.). It immediately becomes the other team's ball. File this one under the common sense category. If you mess up an onside kick, you shouldn't be rewarded with a second chance to gain possession. If you mess it up, it's over, and the other team gets the ball. As it should.
• The draft order has been reworked to reflect playoff results, not regular-season results. The most commonly-cited instance here is that the Chargers beat the Colts in the '08 playoffs, and thus, advanced farther than they did, but the Chargers, after having gone 8-8 in the regular season, still pick way ahead of the Colts, who went 12-4 in the regular season. I'm a little torn on this one, as I'm not sure that the regular season record isn't the best way to determine a team's actual quality, but it's not a big deal. I can go either way on this one.
And file these last two under "things you probably never would have noticed if they weren't specifically pointed out to you."
• There's a new waiver period during the first two weeks of training camp, and the postseason waiver period will begin after the NFL's final game, whether it's the Pro Bowl or the Super Bowl.
• If a fumble or lateral goes out of bounds, the clock will stop only until the referee signals ready for play.
And now, let's take a second to go back to the five safety rule changes (or four rule changes, and one "clarification," as the league would tell you) passed yesterday, which have been slightly controversial. A lot of people feel like the NFL is taking too much contact out of the game, and not letting players play. I don't agree, I like the rule changes, and I say we go through them one-by-one.
• Forming a "wedge" on a kickoff return is no longer legal. If three or more players line up shoulder-to-shoulder within two yards of each other, it will be a penalty. Traditionally, kickoff return teams line up about four guys in a wedge in front of a kick returner, and tell them to stay lined up, run as fast as they can, and clear a path for the ball carrier. Meanwhile, the kicking team will send players down the field, running as fast as they can, with instructions only to hit the players in the wedge as hard as they can. If that sounds extremely violent to you, it's because it is. The owners determined it was causing too many injuries. I know that big hits happen on a football field, and that's fine, but we should probably avoid situations where we purposely set up people to hit each other with as much force and contact as two massive human beings possibly can muster.
• On onside kicks, the kicking team can't have more than five players bunched together. After reviewing tape, owners also concluded that too many guys were getting hurt on onside kicks. And it makes sense. You've got one group of guys that will be just standing there, waiting for the football, and a group of other guys running directly at them, just trying to take them out, one-by-one. That danger's still there, but it's been lessened.
• A blindside block cannot be delivered with a helmet, shoulder or forearm to an opponent's head or neck. That'll be a 15-yard penalty. I don't get the controversy at all about this one. You can still crack back on somebody, just don't lead with your head, and don't aim at another guy's head. I love the rule. Heads and necks are important. Let's keep them intact.
• Contact to the head of a defenseless receiver will also draw a 15-yard penalty. I kind of thought that was already a rule. But if it wasn't, it should be, and I'm good with it.
• A defensive player on the ground may no longer lunge or dive at the quarterback's lower legs. And last but not least, "The Brady Rule," 100 percent influenced by Bernard Pollard's (formerly) perfectly legal hit that sidelined Tom Brady for a full year. If I have a problem with any of the new rules, it's this one, but still, I see where the NFL is coming from. If you're going to sack a quarterback now, you've just got to do it while you're standing. Quarterbacks are the most vital ingredient to good football, so if it keeps more good quarterbacks healthy, I consider it a good thing.
What it comes down to it for me, with all of these safety-based rule changes, is that I'm sick of seeing guys carted off on stretchers. If it lessens the number of times that I see ambulances and neck stabilizers on football fields, even by the tiniest little margin, then I'm going to support it. That's the worst thing about football. The closer we can get that number to zero, the better off everyone's going to be.
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