The National Football League recently held their annual owner’s meeting in Orlando, Florida and as always the rules committee convened to discuss possible rule changes. Each year these proposed rule changes are usually in direct response to events that happened the previous season, and this year’s suggestions were no different.
This year’s most anticipated point of review was an attempt to clarify what actually constitutes as a reception in the NFL. The ‘Catch Rule’ received some revised verbiage in hopes of providing teams, referees, and fans with a cleaner definition of a catch to help prevent mass confusion and instant replay debacles, like last season. Under the new parameters many of the plays previously ruled as a non-catch due to an individual’s rule interpretation will now be ruled a catch.
Some will say this all comes a little too late, but I say better late than never.
The committee discussed possibly changing the pass interference penalty from a spot foul to a 15-yard infraction, like it is presently enforced in the college games, but ended up voting against such an action. The committee definitely made the right decision in this instance as some rules are just fine the way they are, and I feel this rule change would have had a disastrous impact on the professional game.
The playing field is too evenly matched at the NFL level to lessen the impact of a pass interference call. Why would a defensive back ever risk giving up a long pass play or touchdown, even if he had decent coverage, when he could simply interfere with the receiver, take the 15-yard penalty, and regroup for the next play.
The Pittsburgh Steelers were the beneficiary of many pass interference spot fouls last season, especially Antonio Brown. He dominated a multitude of defensive backs so badly they were left no choice but to grab him trying to prevent another big play or score. This would happen even more frequently if it only resulted in a 15-yard mark off.
Taking a closer look at some of the higher rated cornerbacks from last season reveals some players are already implementing this strategy. While their stats suggested they had only given up a single touchdown pass or two during the season, their play on the field shows perpetual defensive holding and illegal contact down the field. They resort to these tactics so often throughout the game it is nearly impossible for the referee to penalize every infraction. Richard Sherman and the Jaguars corners are a few who immediately come to mind.
The rule change voted into existence that will undoubtedly have the biggest impact on the game next season is the new targeting rule. The new rule will penalize a player for lowering his helmet prior to making a tackle. This rule change is the natural progression of the Heads Up program and is imperative in the continued evolution of the game of football.
I applaud the NFL for their commitment to providing a safer work environment for not only their players, but all participants at every level of football.
My only concern with this rule change lies in the league officials ability to interpret and enforce said rule.
There are sure to be hiccups along the way, but all progress has to deal with some resistance.
I am an old school football fan of my beloved Pittsburgh Steelers and am usually resistant to change. I admit to being more than a little concerned about what affect this inevitable rule alteration will have on the game so many of us grew up watching and playing. I achieved a new perspective; an epiphany if you will, after a recent discussion with a family member about this very subject.
Looking back through the years, the NFL has implemented many rule changes regarding player safety which have positively impacted the game. Some of these changes should have been no-brainers. Thankfully, a player can no longer clothesline an opponent, spear a fallen player, pile-drive an adversary on his head, plaster cast their forearms and bash an opponent over the head, just to name a few examples. I know this all sounds like an episode of the Three Stooges but they all used to occur regularly in the NFL.
A more recent example of a positive rule change is the horse collar tackle penalty. This was a necessary rule change that has helped prevent many season or career ending injuries.
During our discussion I was asked who was the best tackler I ever watched. My mind immediately went to Jack Lambert. I remembered how he almost never missed a tackle. Always had his head up to see the ball carrier, wrapped his arms, and drove through the tackle. It was always a violent collision but I don’t ever recall him making initial contact with the crown of his helmet. He played under the adage that you never lose sight of what you are about to hit. Players of all ages need to watch his game film to learn proper tackling technique.
Football can continue this positive evolution if the league can make these necessary changes under the realization that it will always be a physical sport, yet they must protect the integrity of the game.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell stated the helmet is to be used for protection, not as a weapon. That sounds like a reasonable request to me and a mission statement we all should be able to get behind.
I believe this new targeting rule can be a step in the right direction, but we must be prepared for some growing pains. In the end it will all be worth it.
The health and well being of our youth participants and future gridiron greats depends on it!