Friday, September 7, 2012

The Rules They are a-Changin'

As we head into the first full weekend of the NFL regular season, I wanted to make sure you were aware of the recent changes that have been made to the NFL’s rules. If you’ve been watching any of the preseason action, you may have heard about one or two of these changes. Now, you’ve got them all in one place!  (Oh, and for you Bob Dylan fans who may recognize the title of this post, I have a treat for you at the end!)

Also, regular Naptime Huddle readers may recall that I mentioned some of these in the spring, when they were approved by the owners at their annual meeting. I elaborate further on a few of them below, and note two important off-the-field rule changes that I didn’t discuss in that earlier post. First, though, the rules that impact your viewing experience most—the changes to the game rules.



1.            Overtime Scoring

In 2010, the NFL changed the scoring procedures for playoff games that go into overtime.  Before then, all games that ended in a tie after four quarters were resolved in the same way:  sudden death overtime.  This meant that whichever team scored first would be the winner. This also meant that most games ended in a predictable way:  the team that won the overtime coin toss would choose to get the ball first; it would gain twenty or twenty-five yards; and attempt a field goal. Not only was this routine boring, but it seemed, particularly in the playoffs, to be more than a little unjust—and anticlimactic.  


Under the new overtime rules—which now apply to regular season games as well as playoff games—if the team with the ball at the beginning of overtime scores a field goal with their first possession, the other team gets the ball for an opportunity to score. If that team fails to score, or scores a touchdown, the game is over. However, if the second team scores its own field goal, the game continues and the first team to score, in any manner, is the winner.


2.            Replay Reviews

Longtime NH readers may also remember that, starting with the 2011 season, all touchdowns are first reviewed by an official in the press booth who determines whether a score needs a second look from the referee.  Starting in 2012, this procedure also applies to turnovers—i.e., fumbles; interceptions; backward passes behind the line of scrimmage recovered by the opposing team; and muffed kicks recovered by the opponent. This change means two things:  (1) potential for delay; and (2) coaches can no longer use their allotted challenges for touchdown plays or turnovers. 

For a review on the challenge procedure, click here.


3.            Too Many Men on the Field 

This is now considered a “dead ball” foul (i.e., a foul that occurs between plays).  This means that the penalty for the infraction will be assessed from the succeeding spot (i.e., where the offense would have the ball after the next play).  Also, when there are multiple fouls on the same play, if any are “dead ball” fouls, the procedure for enforcing the penalties is affected. 

For an explanation of multiple foul procedures, click here.

For a reminder on the basic “too many men” penalty, click here.


4.            Definition of a “Defenseless Player” 

This change was made for safety reasons. If a player commits an illegal “crackback” block, his victim will now be considered a “defenseless player,” meaning that he is protected from taking shots to the head or neck. Therefore, if another player hits the victim of a crackback block in the head or neck, the offense will be subjected to the heightened penalties associated with this type of hit (and the league might impose a fine and/or other penalty on the offending player).

For a recap on what constitutes a “crackback” block, click here.

To review the consequences of hitting a defenseless player, click here.


5.            Kicking a Loose Ball 

Under NFL rules, it is illegal to intentionally kick a “loose” ball. A ball is “loose” when it is live and not in player possession—e.g., a fumble or a pass. This has been a long-standing foul, but the penalty has only been a loss of ten yards. Now, the offense will lose ten yards and a down. What does this mean? Let’s take the example of a field goal attempt, a common opportunity for this to occur.

As you know, field goal attempts are usually made when the offense has a fourth down. Well, what if there is a problem with the snap or the hold and the ball ends up rolling around for the defense to scoop it up? The temptation for the kicker would be to kick the ball out of bounds, especially since he knows that his team will only lose ten yards and will have a chance for another field goal try, or at least to pin the opposing team deep in its own territory with a punt.

The change to this rule creates a disincentive to do that. In our scenario, if the kicker kicks the ball out of bounds, not only will he cost his team ten yards, he will cost his team possession. Since it was fourth down for the field goal attempt, committing the foul will mean that they don’t get another shot at that fourth down—they will turn the ball over to the other team.



1.            Injured Reserve Changes

Used to be, if a player suffered a major injury that would sideline him for a significant portion of the season, his team would place him on “injured reserve”—or, “IR.” This meant that the injured player would be sidelined for the rest of the season, whether or not he recovered from his injury. This seemed like a harsh result if it was at all possible that the injured player could be back in game condition before the end of the season. However, if the team didn’t put him on IR, it wouldn’t have room on its roster to bring in a replacement. Essentially, IR was a place holder for the injured player.

A new rule has changed that. Now, each team can remove one (and only one) player off of injured reserve during the season. However, to take advantage of the rule, several requirements have to be met:

·   The injured player had to have been placed on IR after 4:00 PM on September 4th;

·   The player’s injury must be one that renders him unable to practice or play for at least six weeks from date of injury; and

·   Before he can come back to the team, the player has to be on IR for eight weeks.

Furthermore, teams have to be strategic and forward-thinking when using this rule. A team has to label a player as “designated for return” at the time it places him on IR. In other words, they can’t put him on IR then at some later point decide that they want to try to bring him back.


2.            Trade Deadline

Finally, the deadline for teams to make trades has been moved back from Week 6 to Week 8. The idea is that, at the near-midpoint of the season, teams may be more willing to make trades when they have a better idea of where their season is headed. Teams on the bubble after six weeks might still think that they can bounce back and, by holding on to their stars, make a push for the playoffs. When things haven’t improved going into Week 8, they might have a different mindset.


Well, I hope this has cleared up the 2012 rules changes. Now you are well equipped to watch and talk about this weekend’s games like a pro!
As promised, for you Dylan fans who recognize that the title of this post is derived from his song "The Times They are a-Changin'", here is a recording of that classic:

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