Professional football introduces new rules to improve the game and protect players.
Do you ever find yourself plopped down on the couch on Sunday, witness some strange ruling on the field, and think to yourself, “Just what the hell are the rules in the NFL anyway?” Don’t worry, so does literally everyone! In fact, if you can show me a single person outside of a player, coach or ref who has a solid grasp on all the rules, I’ll wire you a million dollars in Monopoly money on the spot. So if you’re here because you want to understand what’s happening in any given scenario, you should leave now and read a good book instead. We’re only going to be covering what’s in the scope of normal human comprehension: the specific rule changes that the league has implemented for the 2018 season.
A Catch is a Catch
Perhaps no rule has drawn more ire over recent years than the NFL’s muddy definition of what constitutes a catch. Ask somebody who doesn’t follow the sport and they would likely give you a pretty straightforward answer: it’s when an offensive player receives and controls the ball. Simple, right? Not so fast, bucko! In the past, if the ball showed any movement after it or the player hit the ground — even if the ball was still ensconced in the player’s hands — it was ruled an incompletion. No longer, as the league office simplified the catch qualifications to no longer include “control through the ground.” Receivers will still have to get both their feet or another body part inbounds, and make or be able to make a “football move” such as a step or a controlled reach.
In its continued effort to prioritize safety in a league where 300-pound superhumans violently collide with one another, the NFL instituted a policy banning the use of helmets when initiating contact with another player. Helmet-to-helmet hits were already outlawed, but the ban now includes lowering one’s head towards any part of an opponent’s body, with the exception of when one is bracing for impact initiated by the opponent. Players may be ejected for violating the Use of Helmet rule.
So no rule changes are truly irrelevant, but … these pretty much are. At least, they won’t be particularly noticeable from a viewer’s perspective. Kickoff formation rules have been amended to mandate that five players start on each side of the ball, with at least two each outside the numbers and between the numbers and the hash. Only three members of the receiving team may remain outside of the 15-yard “setup zone” prior to kickoff. No player can block within 15 yards of the restraining line until the kick has been touched or hit the ground. The ball is dead and automatically declared a touchback if it hits the ground in the endzone without first being touched by a member of the receiving team. And finally, wedge blocks, which are defined as “two or more players intentionally aligning shoulder-to-shoulder within two yards of each other, and who move forward together in an attempt to block for the runner,” have been banned.
Batting is for Baseball
On a loose ball, a player can no longer punch or bat the ball toward his opponent’s goal line. If the ball is loose in the end zone, it is illegal for a player on either team to hit the ball in any direction. In addition, players are no longer allowed to bat a backwards pass in flight toward their opponent’s goal line, because that was totally something that happened often enough to merit a change in the rules.