At some point during the first NFL Sunday of the 2014 season, fans across the nation will yell from their living rooms or stadium seats, deriding a referee’s use of his yellow flag. It happens as often as a team claims a first down, or a coach's face turns red after a player’s blunder.
But this season, due to the NFL’s rules changes to such penalties as illegal contact and defensive holding, some plays that wouldn’t have warranted a flag in 2013 could get one this season.
The biggest warning sign came during the preseason, when there were 97 illegal contact, 165 defensive holding and 212 illegal use of hands penalties. Now compare those numbers to 10, 39 and 28, respectively, from 2013’s preseason, and you'll see why there is growing concern among coaches, players and fans.
Of course those huge jumps could have been the necessary adjustment period for both referees and players before the start of games that actually count. However some belive the NFL has another plan in mind.
Over last few years, the league has made several rule changes hoping to protect players from sustaining concussions, most notably the “defensless” player and helmet-to-helmet tackle rules. Now its been speculated the league is adjusting rules to help offenses score more.
Several players from the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks told the Los Angeles Times that they think the league’s new, shorter leash on illegal contact rules is a direct result of their success last season. En route to their 43-8 win over the Denver Broncos, the highest-scoring team in NFL history, the Seahawks finished first in total defense and allowed only 14.4 points per game.
Even before the end of preseason, Seahawks mercurial star cornerback Richard Sherman said he believes the league has cracked down to increase fantasy football scores as well.
It also remains to be seen if stricter penalties really do affect overall offensive numbers. Referring to illegal contact and defensive holding, FiveThirtyEight stressed that “there doesn’t seem to be any relationship between the frequency of either penalty being called and the NFL’s overall level of passing efficiency.”
We can only speculate as to whether the league is keeping players safe by minimizing contact, or inflating offensive numbers for both real and fantasy teams.
But for now lets take a look at some of the rule changes that could play a pivotal role at the start of the regular season and beyond.
The biggest concern for most players, especially for defensive backs. The new rule stresses that if a quarterback is still in the pocket, a defensive player can’t contact a receiver beyond five yards from the line of scrimmage.
The old rule was a little broad in its original language, stressing that a defender couldn’t create contact “that redirects, restricts or impedes a receiver in any way.”
Now the rule states receivers can’t be touched at all past five yards. Whether or not a quarterback is in the pocket during a throw will also come up for debate frequently.
Like illegal contact, it’s not like defensive holding wasn’t in place before, but referees are going to be more strict. A defensive back or linebacker could receive a defensive holding call for either grabbing a receiver or running back’s jersey, or holding them at all.
Illegal Use of Hands
This specifically deals with players swiping at each others faces. We used to see linemen shove each other’s faces and get up under their face masks all the time, same thing for receivers and defensive backs at the line of scrimmage. Now any use of force towards a player’s face will result in a flag.
Clipping, better known as the chop block, has long been outlawed. But now the rule’s been expanded. The league used to penalize an opponent for rolling up on the back of a blocker’s legs, and now its been extended to the side of the blocker’s legs as well. A slight change that could change the face of a game.