NFL Agree 2019 Rule Changes

Over the weekend, the NFL owners met to vote on the rule change proposals put forward by teams and the competition committee.

Normally team requests are not very successful and those by the committee are very likely to succeed.

To put the differences into context between changes proposed by clubs and those proposed by the competition committee, since the 2015 offseason, only 11% of rules change proposals by teams have been passed, while 97% proposed by the Competition Committee have been passed. Washington, who is proposing two rules changes this offseason, has not had any of their seven changes since 2015 approved.

So let’s look at the rule changes that were approved by the owners.

Competition Committee Proposals Accepted:

    • 1. To amend Rule 6 to make permanent the kickoff rule changes that were implemented during the 2018 season.
    • 2. To amend Rule 12 to expand protection to a defenceless player (Blindside Blocks).
    • 3. To amend Rule 14, Section 5, Article 2 to change the enforcement of double fouls when there is a change of possession.
    • 4. To amend Rule 11, Section 4, Article 2 to simplify the application of scrimmage kick rules for missed field goals.
    • 5. To amend Rule 14, Section 2, Article 3 to allow teams to elect to enforce on the succeeding try or on the succeeding free kick an opponent’s personal or unsportsmanlike conduct foul committed during a touchdown.
    • 6. To amend Rule 15, Section 2 for one year only to expand the reviewable plays in instant replay to include fouls for pass interference (REVISION ON THE DAY: to include calls made and those NOT flagged on the field); also expands automatic replay reviews to include scoring plays and turnovers negated by a foul, and any Try attempt (extra point or two-point conversion).
    • 7. To amend Rule 15, Section 1, Article 5 to allow League personnel to disqualify for both flagrant football and non-football acts.

Team Proposals Accepted – None

All team proposals were either not accepted, or in one case a proposal by Kansas to revise overtime to (a) guarantee each team possession, (b) exclude preseason, (c) use opening coin toss to determine options was tabled for the May meeting (this is often to allow further discussion before a final vote).

Change Detail

Ignoring the more technical changes, there are Two MAJOR proposals agreed.

Blindside Blocks and Concussion

The first is to limit Blindside Blocks so that contact isn’t made with the shoulder, helmet or forearm.  Blindside blocks that involve helmet contact against the defender are already illegal.  It will still be possible to ‘de-cleat’ a player, however, to make it legal you are going to have to initiate contact with your hands first. (A blindside block is one where a player doesn’t see the block coming, normally when play changes direction and he’s focusing on the runner).  This now brings the NFL more or less in line with existing high school rules on blindside blocks.  A new proposal by the NCAA rules committee will also look to limit forcible blindside blocks in the future (A change that will almost inevitably affect the International rule set the year after it’s introduced in the US).  This change at all three levels of football reflects a continuing effort to reduce the risks of concussion.

Replay Expansion

The most major change is likely to be called ‘The Saints Rule’.  Following last years’ NFC championship game where an obvious pass interference call was missed, there is now an accepted proposal to allow Pass Interference to be challenged.

The reason this is such a major change is it’s the first time in the history of replay that subjective calls will be included.  Previously replay was ruling on points of fact; was the ball touched, did a runner step out of bounds or did the ball cross the goal line etc.

The original proposal would only allow the challenge to flags that had actually been thrown, it was good to see that this was expanded during the meeting. Coaches are notoriously bad at winning challenges and this will only get worse with the inclusion of judgement calls however if it gets rid of the fiasco that happened at the end of the NFC championship game, that has got to be a good thing.

To put the importance of Pass Interference calls into perspective, over the past three seasons, defensive pass interference has cost teams an average of 15.2 yards per call. Those fouls total 9 percent of all penalties. But because of the yardage involved, they represent 70 percent of penalties with the largest impact on the league’s internal version of a win probability statistic, according to documents distributed to committee members this winter.  Of the 19 pass interference calls that most impacted win probability during that period, 13 occurred in the last two minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime.

The league’s internal analysis also examined the impact of pass interference fouls that were later graded to be incorrect by the league’s officiating department. Between 2016 and 2018, 10.5 percent of incorrect calls were for defensive pass interference. But 24 of those plays ranked among the top 50 in impact on win probability. In other words, 10.5 percent of all incorrect calls represented nearly 50 percent of the incorrect calls that most hindered (or helped) a team’s chances to win.

The AAF which launched this season with two ex VPs of NFL officiating advising them (Dean Blandino and Mike Pereira).  They introduced a ‘Sky Judge’ to each of their games.  The role of this official was to spot any egregious officiating mistakes and correct those plays immediately.  This has obviously been seen as a big success in the eyes of many, although it isn’t making ground with the competition committee and it looks like any future 8th official will be on the field, not in the booth.

There was somewhat of a coup during yesterday’s meeting. According to Albert Breer, “The 32 head coaches crafted a proposal to add an official in the booth to oversee “clear and obvious” mistakes on DPI, OPI, roughing the passer, defenseless player rules. The HCs then voted 32-0 to present it.”

The owners decided not to vote on this proposal. I don’t expect that this is the last we will hear about this.