Rules Changes Focus on Safety

The NFL sent a 14-minute video to the teams, breaking down this year's changes and points of emphasis. A major focus is on protecting "defenseless" players.

Along with the overtime changes that will apply in the playoffs, the NFL has updated several rules for the upcoming season. Those changes were introduced in a video that was sent to teams and reporters.

Rules changes

Most of the changes center on player safety.

"It is paramount you play by the rules and commit to the high standards of professionalism and sportsmanship," new vice president of officiating Carl Johnson said on the video. "We have no higher priority than the safety of our players."

The NFL is increasing its emphasis on protecting defenseless players, especially quarterbacks in the act of passing, receivers in the act of making a catch, returners in the act of catching a kick, running backs whose forward progress has been stopped and kickers and punters after possession has changed. Violations will be 15 yards for unnecessary roughness and potential discipline.

"It will be illegal to hit any defenseless player if the initial force of the contact by a player's helmet, shoulder or forearm is to the head or neck area," the new rule reads.

Other changes:

— If a receiver completes a catch and has not had time to protect himself, a defensive player is prohibited from launching into the receiver in such a way that causes the defensive player's helmet, face mask, shoulder or forearm to forcibly strike the receiver in the head or neck area. Launching into a player to deliver a blow has "no business" in the game, Johnson said.

— In 2009, defenses were not allowed to line up directly over the snapper on special teams. It was legal for a defender's helmet to be across from the snapper's shoulder pads. Now, the entire body of the defender must be outside the snapper's shoulder pads. A violation would be 5 yards for illegal formation.

— The ball is dead at the instant the ball-carrier's helmet comes off.

— Before, if a returner muffed the kick and was hit without being given a "reasonable opportunity" to field the ball before it hit the ground, the kicking team was penalized 15 yards. Now, the receiving team will only be granted the ball at the spot of the muff. That applies as long as the kicking team was not guilty of unnecessary roughness.

— Before, if the defense was guilty of a dead-ball personal foul after time had expired at the end of the half or game, the offense was given the choice to extend the half. But if the offense was guilty of such a penalty, the half or game was over. Now if a dead-ball foul has been committed by either the offense or the defense after time has expired in the half, the half is over but the yardage will be assessed on the second-half kickoff or, if the game is going to overtime, the overtime kickoff.

— As had been announced a few months ago, overtime rules have changed for the playoffs. Instead of normal sudden-death rules, each team will have a possession in overtime unless the offense scores a touchdown on its first possession. If the team receiving a kickoff fumbles, that is considered its possession. Similarly, if the team receiving a punt fumbles, that is considered its possession. Normal sudden-death rules apply after both teams have had one possession.

Points of emphasis

The NFL is keeping a closer eye on taunting. "Disrespect," Johnson said, "will simply not be tolerated." Not only is that for player-to-player taunting but "exaggerated" gesturing at the officials after a penalty/non-call.


— Hitting a runner who is out of bounds; slamming a runner to the turf after forward progress has been stopped; striking a player with a hand or forearm. All are 15-yard penalties.

— Officials will keep a closer eye on low blocks, chop blocks, clipping and blocks below the waste on change-of-possession plays.

— The umpire is moving from about 5 to 7 yards behind the line of scrimmage to the offensive backfield, opposite the referee. Too many umpires were getting caught up in the action and were in harm's way. However, the umpire will move back to his old spot on field goals, extra points and in the final 2 minutes of the second and fourth quarters.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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