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2021 rule changes

Rules proposal extends low block fouls to scrimmage downs (yes, more penalties)

The Competition Committee is proposing eliminating most low blocks on scrimmage plays.



Update 5/26: Owners originally tabled this proposal during their regular meeting, but it was passed for the 2021 season at their spring meeting.

The Competition Committee has put forth a proposal to eliminate low blocks in the open field on all scrimmage plays, much like how they are handled after a change of possession and kicking plays.

The proposed rule specifically targets actions in the open field, but not adding any additional restrictions within the area of the offensive linemen. It doesn’t remove any other fouls that happen in this area, such as chop blocks and crackback blocks, but it does not add any fouls within the envelope two yards beyond the tackle box on all sides. The rule is expected to be passed when it is voted on later this month, although the officiating department has sent teams an explainer video to help quell dissenting votes, according to sources.

The tackle box is defined as the imaginary line from the outside shoulders of either tackle, and plus/minus 3 yards from the line of scrimmage. The new rule would have a “tight end box” that will extend into the space 2 yards beyond the standard tackle position (which may include the tight end if lined up close enough), 5 yards upfield, and 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Unlike the tackle box, the tight end box does not go away once the ball leaves the box. In the case of a spread formation, the tackle box and tight end box are based on where the interior linemen would be in a conventional formation.

This is going to have major ramifications to blocking and tackling outside of the tight end box, as all other low blocks will be prohibited, except low blocks will continue to be allowed against the ball carrier or a receiver attempting to catch a pass. The new low block foul would apply both to the offense and defense.

Despite these proposed changes, it will still be illegal for a receiver to administer a crackback block — most commonly seen as a flexed or motion receiver who goes halfway into the tackle box to administer a low block. So the tight end box is not a free-shot zone for low blocks, as existing restrictions will continue to exist.

This will be an adjustment for players, and clearly there will be an increase in penalties if this rule is passed by the owners. It is almost assured passage, as it is a player-safety initiative and has been vetted by the Competition Committee. Coaches will likely devote significant time to reinforcing high blocks in the open field space in training camp drills.

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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