2016 points of emphasis
Points of emphasis are issued by the Competition Committee when the existing rules address a competitive issue, but their enforcement and interpretation can be refined without writing new rules. Points of emphasis in 2016 include rushes on field goals, hits with the crown of the helmet, and coaches in the field of play.
Field goal rush tactics. The Competition Committee reviewed several instances of illegal field-goal– and extra-point–rush tactics. This included a series of defensive players either making forcible contact below the waist, grabbing blockers and throwing them to the side or the ground to create a rushing gap for an attempted block, and using their hands or other body parts to push off and gain leverage on opposing blockers.
This will be more closely examined as they are already acts that are prohibited by the rules (15-yard penalty from the previous spot). According to the committee, these acts are potentially dangerous, could lead to injuries, and give opposing teams an unfair advantage. The committee is also recommending that players be subject to additional disciplinary action for forcible contact below the waist.
Crown hits. In addition to the rule changes on so-called crown hits (removes the criteria for a player to “line-up” a runner prior to initiating contact), the Committee also instructed officials to closely watch for contact initiated with the crown of the helmet on a runner from any angle outside the tackle box. The original enforcement, which was not included in the rulebook, required a player committing an illegal crown hit to (1) line up his opponent, (2) lower his head, and (3) make forcible contact with the crown of his helmet. The three components must be present for a crown hit on an open-field runner.
One notable example from the 2015 season happened in the Steelers-Bengals Wild Card playoff game (video) when Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier hit Bengals running back Giovani Bernard, which caused a fumble late in the game. The officials correctly did not rule this a crown hit since Shazier came in at an angle.
The Committee removed the line-up provision and now forcible contact with the crown from any angle outside the tackle box from a defender will be illegal. The line up requirement still applies to the runner since he is generally considered to be protecting himself from impending contact when he lowers his head rather than delivering a blow.
Coaches in the field of play. Another area of emphasis getting special attention this season is the issue of coaches in the field of play. It’s been an issue for the last several seasons, notably with Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh and former San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh, but the pinnacle came last season, also during the Steelers-Bengals playoff game (video). Pittsburgh assistant coach Joey Porter was seen arguing with Bengals defensive back Adam Jones on the field play while medical staff were attending to Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown.
The Competition Committee points out that this is an ongoing, continuous problem, and in 2016, officials will penalize any coach who enters the field of play and does not comply with the rule. The only acceptable actions by a head coach are when they try to signal an official for a timeout that is not at a down-line with in the coach’s box and during an injury timeout to check on the welfare of his player. All other assistant coaches are not permitted on the field even after stoppages in play. Violation of the rules will be a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and could lead to further sanctions against the coach or team. In this case, these limitations were added to Rule 13.