By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The NFL released fresh rule changes and points of emphasis for the 2016 season on Tuesday, and as expected, they mostly continue to increase confusion and soften an inherently violent game in the name of “player safety” – especially at the quarterback position.READ MORE: Boston Children's Hospital Begins Vaccinating Kids Ages 12-15 Following FDA Approval
Obviously, no one wants to see their team’s quarterback injured. Patriots fans know as well as anyone how a low hit on a QB in the pocket can end a player’s season. But based on the updated points of emphasis on hits to the passer, it may as well be illegal to hit the quarterback at all.
While it’s perfectly reasonable to stop players from launching themselves at a QB’s legs or using their helmet as a missile, director of officiating Dean Blandino’s explanation, in the video the league released Tuesday, sounds like you’ll soon be able to say “You can’t even touch the QB” without hyperbole.
“Even if a defender is coming off a block and wrapping his arms, he must avoid making forcible contact with his helmet, shoulder, forearm, or chest.”
These are mountainous men running at full speed trying to stop a QB from getting a pass out, often within two or three seconds. Surely the NFL knows this from their proprietary Next-Gen Stats. How are these guys supposed to avoid making forcible contact? What’s a defender supposed to hit a QB with, his ass?
“Yes.” – Mark Sanchez
Now these points of emphasis are mainly meant for low hits on the quarterback, not necessarily any and all contact. But you can’t reasonably say a defender can hit the passer with any kind of authority and not get flagged. Referees are being instructed to look out for these hits this season more than ever, so expect a flag just about every time the QB gets grazed. Even if some of those flags get picked back up, it’s going to result in a lot more needless delays.
The rule change that’s sure to cause a lot of headaches with players in 2016 is the horse collar rule. Before this year, it was legal to pull an opponent down by the top of his jersey without grabbing the horse collar. Now, you can’t grab by the back or side of the jersey in the nameplate area at all. More flags, more delays, more migraines.READ MORE: $2,500 Reward Offered For Information After Cat Bound Using Tape, Shot 11 Times With BB Gun
You can thank Odell Beckham Jr. and Josh Norman for the league’s newly expanded rules regarding unsportsmanlike conduct. Two penalties in the same game for “punches or kicks without contact,” “use of abusive or threatening language toward an opponent,” or “any act that constitutes ‘taunting'” will result in ejections. It’s fine to crack down on fighting, but trash talk? Remember when Tim Duncan drew two technical fouls and an ejection for laughing at the referee? Can’t say NFL officiating is becoming as bad as the NBA, but it’s getting damn close now.
Rule changes and points of emphasis that I DO like, however …
Zero tolerance for hits with the crown of the helmet. See ya, Brandon Meriweather.
Five-yard delay of game penalty for coaches who call timeouts when they have none. This won’t affect the Patriots one iota. Bill Belichick would never do something so silly.
No special protection for runners who slide head-first. While rules have gotten more strict against hitting a sliding player who is going legs first, players who slide head-first won’t get the same protection. No need for a runner to risk himself like that.
That QB hit rule, though … near the beginning of the video, Blandino says the league asks four questions when considering any rule change or point of emphasis … “Does it improve the game? Can it be officiated? Can a change be coached? Can a player play by the rule?”
No, no, no, and no. But, you know, player safety.
Now I’m not one of these barbarians who wants to see players get injured or doesn’t care about safety. I do. I want the best livelihood possible for NFL players both during games and after their careers are over. But the unfortunate reality is football is a brutal, unforgiving game, and the more these rule changes are applied, the more it ceases to be football.
I think players would be better off simply accepting the physical risks and playing it out, whether through waivers, contracts, etc. If the NFL wants to avoid all injuries, they should just make it flag football. But since that’s too cliche, I’m more picturing a league where if you wrap your arms around a guy, that’s a tackle and auto-whistle. Call it HugBall. It’s dystopian at best. But hey, at least it’s still a contact sport!
Perhaps these new rule changes and points of emphasis will make the game safer and maybe lead to even more scoring. That’s fun. But the rules of the game are becoming less like football in its purest form with each passing interpretation.MORE NEWS: NASA Wallops Rocket Launch Postponed Again
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. His opinions do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at email@example.com.