The Competition Committee will have a long list of items this year to consider as they review potential rules changes and new points of emphasis.
Occasionally, there is a rule change that is a lock entering the offseason. The Competition Committee will review the rule that disallows the replay official to review a play when the coach has challenged by throwing his red flag (complete history on how this rule came about). The 15-yard penalty is still likely to stay in, but the replay official would still be able to review. To avoid a deliberate penalty to delay the offense from snapping the ball to stall for a potential review, the Competition Committee has a couple of options: disallow reviews if the defense commits a penalty (1) after the play clock starts for the next down or (2) after the offense breaks the huddle.
But the red-flag rule as it stands now is definitely toast.
Commissioner Roger Goodell outlined a few other agenda items in his State of the League address:
The Competition Committee’s agenda will include looking at eliminating certain dangerous low blocks; further taking [hits to and with] the head out of the game and expanding the standards for the quality of our playing fields. …
First, we’re going to review all low blocks. In working with our Player Advisory Committee that Ronnie Lott and John Madden chair we talked about that earlier this year shortly after the [Texans linebacker] Brian Cushing injury. We need to review all of those low blocks. It’s important for us to try to find “Is there a better way of doing what we’re doing?” We are focused on that with the Competition Committee. As it relates to what you call the “strike zone,” there is no question that there is a focus to try to get back to the fundamentals of tackling. The number one issue is: take the head out of the game. I think we’ve seen in the last several decades that the players are using their head more than they have, when you go back several decades. There are several theories on that. The helmets are better; they feel safer using their head. The facemask. You can come up with a lot of theories that we’ve discussed. But the reality is we have to get back to tackling, using the shoulders, using your arms properly to tackle. And there is a strike zone, and that’s where we are encouraging our players to focus and our coaches to coach that way, and it’s made a difference. We have seen a dramatic change in the way that’s happening over the years, so we’ll continue that.
Agenda for Competition Committee
Likely items for consideration:
For review, but no action:
One of the low blocks likely to be illegal in all instances is the chop block. A chop block happens when a defender is engaged up high while another opponent hits him below the knees. (It does not matter if the high or low block happens first.) These can lead to very devastating injuries, and there are few exceptions to this rule; all exceptions should be eliminated.
Hits to a defenseless player either helmet-to-helmet or with the defender leading with the crown of his helmet will be looked at. The committee will look at various video clips of fouls and non-fouls from this past season.
The quality of the playing surface was an issue that arose in the Wild Card game at FedEx Field for a Redskins home game. The condition of the field that day made a sandlot a viable alternative.
Other items for consideration include reviewing the process of the catch and the tuck rule, which are reviewed on an annual basis for refinement. Just as with hits to a defenseless players, the Competition Committee will look at examples of representative plays and determine if the rules reflect the spirit of the rule. This year, the committee will likely look at the fumble play from the Ravens-Broncos divisional playoff. On that play it looked like Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning had not yet tucked the ball in after faking an attempted pass, which would have changed a fumble into incomplete. Referee Bill Vinovich ruled that there was no conclusive evidence that the fumble should be overturned, but such a call easily could have been made to cheaply give the ball back to the Broncos.
Last year, the Buffalo Bills advanced a proposal to have the replay official conduct a review, rather than having the on-field referee review the replay. This is expected to be discussed again, and it is possible that a proposal to have a centralized replay supervisor in the league’s headquarters would be considered. That consideration, though, appears very unlikely to be enacted.
Clock errors came up twice this season: a play-clock error nixed a timeout strategy by Rams coach Jeff Fisher (one of the Competition Committee’s co-chairmen) and another allowed more than a minute of game time to tick off the clock during a stoppage at a 49ers home game. We have been told that there were no in-season procedural changes to clock operations from a league source, who also said the clock operator in San Francisco was either suspended or fired for the minute-plus clock error. We would like to see replay be available for clock errors more than 10 seconds outside of the two-minute warning, three seconds inside the two-minute warning, but not subject to a coach’s challenge. Also, we’d like to a see the referee have the ability to check with the replay official.
Two items are likely to have preliminary review, but no action: the expansion of the playoffs to allow more teams to qualify and a proposal to remove kickoffs from the game entirely. Both proposals are widely unpopular, but both have been mentioned by the commissioner this season, making their review by the Competition Committee very certain.
We would like to see the committee cover the modified sudden death procedure. Rather than let a “coin flip decide” the fate of overtime, we would like to see the team last in the lead get the kickoff options in overtime, as if they had won the coin flip. Then, sudden death would be conducted as it historically has been.
Commissioner Goodell also mentioned that an 18-game schedule is still a possibility in the future. We’d like to see a 17-game schedule that incorporates neutral sites. Teams that participate in the annual London games would not have to forfeit a home game, Los Angeles and San Antonio could each get a half-season’s worth of games, and other locations far from an NFL city could see a professional game.
The Competition Committee will release their recommendations on rule modifications to the owners for a vote in March.