Let's forget all the NFL Lockout collective bargaining legal mumbo jumbo we have been reading about and discussing in recent weeks. Instead, let's talk about some real on-field stuff for a little while today. That is because reports are out today that the NFL Competition Committee is considering significant rules changes to kickoffs and instant replay, and that the league is talking tough about flexing its disciplinary muscles when it comes to illegal hits.
Let's talk about the rules changes first.
The most significant change being considered is to kickoffs. The Competition Committee is proposing moving kickoffs up five yards, from the 30-yard line to the 35 and having touchbacks placed at the receiving team's 25-yard line rather than the current 20.
Committee Chairman Rich McKay said the league is still concerned about the injury rate on kickoffs, even though greater restrictions on wedge blocking have been enforced the past couple of seasons. Considering that 15 placekickers who played in at least 12 game during the 2010 season averaged more than 65 yards on their kickoffs, and that the additional five yards on touchbacks would provide greater incentive not to run the ball out of the end zone, the new rules would drastically reduce the percentage of kickoffs returned.
Last season there were 2,539 kickoffs in NFL games, with just 403 touchbacks (15.5 percent). If the proposed rule becomes reality we might see about 50 percent of kickoffs result in touchbacks, a drastic change to the way the game is played.
Another proposed rule change involves instant replay. The Competition Committee is recommending that all scoring plays now be reviewed by the replay assistant, meaning coaches would no longer have the ability to challenge scoring plays. This is how replay is currently used in the final two minutes of a game. Standardizing the rule across an entire game seems to make sense.
Finally, the NFL is talking about enforcing suspensions for illegal hits.
Defenseless players will now be classified as:
- A quarterback in the act of throwing
- A receiver trying to catch a pass
- A runner already in the grasp of tacklers and having his forward progress stopped
- A player fielding a punt or a kickoff
- A kicker or punter during the kick
- A quarterback at any time after change of possession
- A receiver who receives a blind-side block
- A player already on the ground
I have questions about two of those. First, is the NFL saying you cannot hit a quarterback once he has begun his throwing motion? If so, you might as well put a red jersey on them and declare them completely untouchable. Second, does that mean a defender can't hit a receiver and try to knock the ball out, or if a guy is bobbling the ball the defensive back has to stand there and let him catch it before he hits him?