The Raiders are playing host to NFL officials today through Sunday, which serves two purposes for the team and the league.
First, the officials are on site to educate the players about the changes in the rules from 2012 to 2013.
One of the biggest changes, from the Raiders perspective at least, is the abolition of the infamous tuck rule. That is not likely to be the rule change with the biggest effect, though, as it’s a rare situation.
Another rule that had large one-time implications and has now been modified is the rule that penalizes coaches for erroneously throwing a challenge flag when the play is not subject to review. This could include a scoring play or a play within the last two minutes of one of the halves for example.
This rule became an issue last year when Houston running back Justin Forsett was brought down but no whistle was blown and so he got up and ran 81 yards for a TD. Because it was a scoring play, it was to be automatically reviewed but Schwartz, forgetting this, threw his flag and the previous iteration of the rule no longer allowed the booth to review the play and the TD stood.
Now, the team will be penalized by losing a time out if the coach throws a flag on a non-reviewable play (or, if not timeouts remain, will get a 15 yard penalty) but the play can still be review by the booth. It’s not likely that a play like that will happen commonly but the rule change is still for the better.
Instead, rules governing blocking and a focus on enhancing player safety will be the biggest changes. One emphasis for the officials in the coming season will be calling fouls when players look to get late hits on opponents. Even if the hit isn’t late, the officials will call personal fouls if the offending player has an unobstructed path to the opponent and fails to pull up or avoid the contact.
Another shift will be the officials calling facemask penalties much more frequently on offensive players who grab and move defenders’ face masks. Stiff arms to the head region will still be allowed but the refs are ready to whistle a running back who grabs the facemask of his opponent and doesn’t immediately let go.
We can all expect more whistles at the end of plays, as well, as officials will be proactively using the whistle this year to end plays in which an offensive player has been stymied by the defense and is put into a defenseless position.
There are no major rules changes but the NFL is trying to tweak the rules so as to make the game as safe as possible and still keep it interesting and competitive. Only time will tell if these rules are a step in the right direction.