2016 points of emphasis
As the 2016 preseason and season kicks off, new points of emphasis, including existing rules on player safety, will be given a closer look by officials.
Low hits to the passer. As the rules stand now, defenders are prohibited from hitting a quarterback at the knee area or below the knees while the quarterback is in a passing posture in the pocket (defenseless position). Defenders are only allowed to make contact below the knees if he uses his arms to swipe, wrap, or grab the passer in an attempt to make the tackle.
The Competition Committee saw an increase in these types of low hits and stated they believe that prohibiting defenders from using their arms in this way would severely hamper the ability to tackle the quarterback. NFL senior vice president of officiating Dean Blandino recently stated “That was something that we did see an increase in last year, so the Competition Committee wants us to emphasize that.” The point of emphasis will be on hits at or below the knees where the defender makes contact with his helmet, shoulders, or chest and will be judged as a foul regardless of any attempt to also use the arms. Once a quarterback tucks the ball and goes into a running posture or leaves the pocket to throw on the run, he is no longer protected by the rules for hits to the knee area or below.
Quarterback slide. Another point of emphasis this season is in the realm of runners — quarterbacks mainly — who slide feet first to gain additional protection. Defenders are required to treat a sliding runner as a player who is down by contact. Once the runner begins a feet-first slide, forcible contact by the defense is prohibited. The runner also gives up the ability to advance the football once he slides, as the ball is spotted where the slide is initiated, not where he contacts the ground.
The new emphasis will also be on imminent contact by the defense. While defenders are still responsible to recognize when a runner initiates a feet-first slide, officials will be watching to see if the runner starts his slide before imminent contact. If contact is imminent, the defender may make the tackle but must avoid at all costs hits to the head/neck area. Players who slide any other way than feet first (sideways or head first) or while contact is imminent will not be afforded the protection of the slide rule and may be hit anywhere until he is down.
Blandino also stated that the NFL has spent a lot of time with coaching staffs and officials instructing them on what to watch for regarding these hits and slides.
Richard Madrid has joined Football Zebras as a contributing writer. This is the first of what we hope are many posts from him. Welcome, Richard.