By Andrew Kahn
The biggest rule change of the 2014 NFL season won’t require a single edit in the rule book. That’s because, technically, it’s not a change. The league has simply made aggressive play in the defensive backfield a “point of emphasis.” Initiating contact five yards beyond the line of scrimmage and illegal hands to the face were always penalties, but now the NFL will be monitoring them more closely. Both defensive players and receivers can be flagged, but the thought is that it will help offenses more, a curious decision by the NFL after a record-setting year for passers. Here are five other actual changes to the rule book for the upcoming season. Sound off in the comments section with your thoughts on whether they’ll improve the game.
While grabbing an opponent’s jersey was sometimes cause for a flag, this season it will always be. If a defensive player grabs an offensive player’s jersey, it is defensive holding—five yards and an automatic first down. This is the rare rule change that simplifies things for officials.
When and where on the field you can make contact with a player below the waist was and still is a bit confusing, but the clipping rule has been expanded to include rolling up the side of a defender’s legs. It is a 15-yard flag, just as it was/is for that sort of contact to the back of a leg. This is one of the few rules designed to increase player safety.
Expanded unsportsmanlike conduct
This may be the most arbitrary rule change of the season. Abusive language directed at opponents or officials is now a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, period. The same goes for celebrations that involve “props.” But what constitutes abusive language? Roger Goodell may have a difference stance on this than, say, my mom. And where is the line drawn on props? At the very least, it seems that players like Jimmy Graham won’t be able to dunk a football through the goal post anymore. And that’s a shame.
A fumble—or a potential fumble—is now reviewable no matter where it happens on the field. Previously, a fumble could only be reviewed if it occurred in the end zone, which is kind of astonishing. Last year’s NFC championship between Seattle and San Francisco was probably the impetus for this change. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time a questionable play in a high-profile game resulted in a rule change the following season.
When the referee steps into the replay booth this season, he won’t be alone. He now has a “phone a friend” option, with officials in the league’s officiating department in New York on the other line to help out on a particularly difficult call. This could be a bad thing is if (1) the helpers are similar to college football’s notoriously awful replay officials or (2) it extends the length of games that many fans feel are already too long.
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about the NFL and other sports at AndrewJKahn.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn
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