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2020 Pro Bowl

Special rules in place for the 2020 Pro Bowl

Here are the special rules that are in effect for the Pro Bowl



The NFL has furnished Football Zebras with the rules modifications in place for the Pro Bowl. For player safety and exhibition purposes, there are restrictions on formations, pass coverage, and rushing the quarterback or kicker. In addition, there are some rules and procedures in place to test for a possible future use.

Onside scrimmage alternative

For the sixth straight year, there are no kickoffs; the possession that starts the half or follows a touchdown or field goal starts from the 25-yard line.

However, to test a rules proposal brought by Denver last year — and one that has been credited to former NFL and incoming Rutgers coach Greg Schiano — an onside kick alternative is available by giving the “kicking” team the option of a 4th & 15 play from their 25. A team that converts the onside scrimmage alternative into a first down will maintain possession of the ball, and it is the same as a turnover on downs if it is not. The ball next goes into play from the dead ball spot. A half cannot start on an onside scrimmage.

“Receiving” team fouls from the scoring play cannot be bridged forward to the onside scrimmage, except for fouls against an official will always be enforced. When fouls by the kickers are bridged forward from the scoring play, it is still a 4th & 15 from wherever the ball winds up.

Normal scrimmage rules and penalty enforcements apply to the onside scrimmage (including automatic first downs and losses of down). Once the onside scrimmage option is elected or declined, that choice cannot be changed.

Motion by flexed receiver

A flexed receiver in a 2-point stance is allowed to flinch or otherwise shift his position legally, and not be subject to a false start. A flexed receiver is at least 2 yards outside of the tackle position. He is allowed to adjust his stance as long as one foot remains partially on the ground. In addition to getting some relief from false-start penalties, this shifting allowance can be done while another player is in motion, thus this will not be an illegal shift.

35-second play clock and incomplete pass clock rules

Various experiments have been tried at the Pro Bowl in order to reduce the time between plays. This year a 35/20 second play clock will be used — 35 seconds from the end of a play, but 25 seconds when there is a timeout or other stoppage.

On incomplete passes, the clock will run when the referee signals the ball is ready for play, except normal timing rules apply inside of 2:00 of the 2nd quarter and 5:00 of the 4th quarter.


A new replay system is being tested, so two replay booths are being used for the game. Scoring plays, turnovers, and plays inside the 2-minute warning are subject to review by the replay officials.

Each coach is permitted one challenge, provided the team has a timeout remaining. Additional challenges are not awarded.

Safety initiatives

There are no intentional grounding rules. Also, only defensive ends and tackles may rush on passing plays, but those must be on the same side of the ball. The defense is not permitted to blitz. All blindside blocks and blocks below the waist are illegal.

Formations and pass coverage schemes are simplified packages.

The formation and coverage schemes are monitored by Al Riveron and an unnamed assistant coach for compliance, and the referee will be notified for warning either team; egregious or repeated violations are a penalty. (The referee will then give specifics to each captain and coach.) The assistant coach that is monitoring the special rules was selected by the commissioner and has “a minimum of 15 years NFL coaching experience.”

Coaches are not allowed to make any modifications through side agreements.

Standard formations

Offense must line up in formation without shifts or motion. Once the offense lines up, they are required to use that formation.

  • Players must play the position that they were elected for on the Pro Bowl ballot
  • Five eligibles must be one of these packages:
    • 2 RB, 1 TE, 2 WR
    • 1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR
    • 1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR
  • Balanced formations: no more than two wide receivers and no more than 3 eligibles on either side of the ball

Defense must present a standard 4–3 defense with even spacing with only an “under” or “over” variation.

  • One linebacker may be on the line of scrimmage, but cannot substitute for an end or tackle, and cannot rush the quarterback.
  • Stacked linebackers must be 2 yards off the line of scrimmage
  • Four defensive backs
  • Deep middle safety must be aligned inside the hash marks.
  • No nickle or dime packages, but 3 cornerbacks may line up in a 4-man secondary
  • Linebackers and defensive backs cannot switch positions

Kicking formations must be aligned according to standard formation rules, plus:

  • Limit of three defensive rushers per side, except on extra-points or kicks, a fourth rusher is allowed on either side. No block rush over the center.
  • Single-press coverage on the gunner is only allowed, but a second defender must be at least 5 yards off the line of scrimmage

Pass coverage

  • Man-to-man coverage by the free safety (except those in the middle third), unless the coverage assignment begins blocking
  • Three deep zone: strong safety rotation only into flat
  • Deep middle safety must be aligned between hash marks
  • Cover-2 zone permitted, but must be in final position before the snap
  • On a balanced offensive formation, the rotation of the zone defense can be to either side

Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)

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