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2007 NFL Rule Changes

2007 NFL Rule Changes
Result of 'Clarifications': Mayhem, Chaos, Anarchy

A week ago, I wrote about a segment on Patriots All Access that showed the New England Patriots coaching staff getting educated on 2007 NFL Rules changes by NFL supervisor of officials Johnny Grier. If the coaches' reaction is any indication, they'll have their work cut out for them trying to explain it all to the players.

Every year, the NFL tweaks a few rules for whatever reason. Recommended by the NFL Competition Committee and voted upon at the owners' meeting in March, the league changed several on-field rules and endorsed a couple coaching employment changes for 2007. (There are also several "slight" changes highlighted by Grier. Those are at the end of the story.)

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick didn't look too pleased with some of the interpretations Grier gave him as they watched film clips from previous games and discussed how a given rule would be applied. Grier said things like, "Well, I would do such-and-such," implying that there's a measure of subjectivity.

Let's start with the changes spelled out in the league's official release.

Spiking of ball: It will now be a 5-yard penalty for a player to spike or throw the ball after a down has ended, except for after a touchdown. "We did not think this type of spiking was good for sportsmanship or the administration of the game by officials," said Rich McKay, co-chair of the NFL Competition Committee.
Sounds pretty straightforward and clear, right? Alas.

One of the coaches asked if spinning the ball would be a penalty. "Spinning the ball. No problem," Grier said. It has to be a "blatant spike in the field of play," which implies that spiking out of bounds might be OK.

Oh, yeah. I see this being applied fairly and evenly. "Well, he didn't really spike it." "It looked like a spike." "It's hard to tell if that was a spike." "Well, he actually spiked it on the sideline, so it wasn't technically in the field of play."

I've always been an advocate of handing the ball to the official or just leaving it on the ground. Flipping the ball away (usually forward) in an effort to make the ball harder to spot, or emphatically placing the ball away from an official in some childish power play slows the game down and is done with unsportsmanlike intentions.

I'm sure some nitwit will appeal to the players' union and try to make it a nonsensical freedom of expression issue.

If what we saw between Belichick and Grier was accurate, this rule likely will have to be changed again in 2008. Let's just hope the league finds a way to call this evenly before the season starts. And let's hope the Patriots coaching staff just eliminates player behavior that could result in potential infractions.

Player safety: It will now be a 15-yard penalty (rather than 5 yards) for a player to make a block below the waist against an eligible receiver while the quarterback is in the pocket. Also, when a player who receives the snap fumbles or muffs the ball, the restrictions on the defensive team relative to illegal contact and an illegal cut-block will end.
That sounds like two completely separate issues to me, but I obviously don't write up these things for the league.

The first part sounds straightforward and involves no change beyond the severity of the penalty. I don't remember seeing many calls for this, so it will be interesting if we notice more calls or just think there are more because of the 15-yard punishment.

I didn't think the second part included a change, but the implication is that if a quarterback muffs a snap, then defenders will have more leeway in pass coverage and will be able to chucking and block potential receivers downfield, whether the quarterback is in the pocket or not. I'll try to get some clarification on this.

Two-Minute Warning/10-Second Runoff: The requirement that the offense has to be behind in the score or the score has to be tied for a 10-second clock runoff to be exercised against the offense for an excess timeout with two minutes to go in the first half or in the game has been eliminated. Now a 10-second runoff will take place no matter what the game situation. Any possible advantage for the offense (e.g., the old rule would not require a 10-second runoff if it were ahead) has been eliminated. The defense has the option to decline a 10- second runoff (which will give it more time should it get the ball back).
This makes a lot of sense and is a long time coming. Basically, there will be a 10-second runoff of the game clock if the offense tries to take more than three timeouts, regardless the score and time on the game clock; and the defense can decline the runoff if their team would benefit from the extra time.

The only little glitch I see in there is "for an excess timeout." I remember last year something about a player calling for a timeout, but the officials didn't actually grant it (even though they stopped the game) and so it wasn't a penalty. Seemed a little thin, and I don't see how the above language avoids that, but we'll see.

Clock Stoppage: Two exceptions were added to the rule that dictates that the play clock be restarted at the time at which it was stopped prior to the snap. Now an instant replay review prior to the two-minute warning will reset the clock at 25 seconds (as has been the case with other stoppages such as a penalty), as will an instant replay review after the two-minute warning that results in a reversal. These changes will make the administration of the rule more consistent.
Pretty minor, but I expect Randy Cross will take about 10 minutes explaining this if and when it happens.
Pace of Game: The foul for unintentional touching of a forward pass by an interior lineman has been eliminated. It was felt that no advantage was gained by the offense on such a play, and elimination of the rule would speed up the game.
This is actually a pretty significant change, and I see a couple problems. Previously, if a lineman was the first player to touch forward pass -- intentionally or not -- it was a penalty. Now, from my interpretation, it says that if the lineman has no intent to touch the ball (i.e.: tries to catch the pass), it's no longer a penalty. But what if the quarterback has intent by drilling the lineman to cause an incomplete pass and avoid a sack? The lineman has no intent; he's probably not even looking. Another judgment call?
Instant Replay: Made a permanent rule. Also, high-definition replay equipment will be installed in NFL stadiums. Also, "down-by-contact" as a reviewable play and limiting reviews to a maximum of 60 seconds were made permanent additions to the replay system.
Nothing shocking here, and nothing new.
Crowd Noise: The five-yard penalty against the defense for excessive crowd noise has been eliminated. The penalty had not been called in many years.
This was kind of nonsensical, even more so with every team pretty easily executing silent snaps. Some teams have more of an advantage. Oh well. It might be less than fair, but it's stupid to try to legislate, and inane to penalize the players.

Coaching Employment Rules

Employment Rule Change #1: Assistant coaches on Super Bowl teams may now interview for a second time with a club for its head-coaching position during the off-week after the championship game. "We wanted to make sure that coaches on Super Bowl teams did not feel it was a disadvantage," McKay said.
I guess this is the Charlie Weiss / Romeo Crennel Rule. I think it makes more sense to tell teams they can't interview anyone until after the Super Bowl. Simple enough. A moratorium on hiring (even interviewing) from the end of the season until the Monday after the Super Bowl. Sounds harsh, but if you want to make it fair across the board, there it is.
Employment Rule Change #2: Clubs now have the exclusive right to an assistant coach's contract through the second Tuesday after their season has ended or last playoff game, rather than the third Tuesday as in the past.
The flip side is this: not only do you not impose a moratorium until after the Super Bowl, you actually loosen the restrictions: Mayhem. Chaos. Anarchy. That's one way to do things.

Stuff Not in the League's Release

In addition to the changes announced by the league, Grier mentioned several other "minor" adjustments -- a couple that don't seem so minor.

Defensive Holding (as opposed to illegal contact): a pull of the receiver's jersey will be a 5-yard defensive holding penalty. "Whether there's restriction or not .. that's how the committee wanted it called," Grier said.
Grier claims this is the same as last season, so I don't know why they spent time on it if they were talking about rules changes. Even so, it seems there was plenty of jersey-grabbing and pulling that seemed to be "incidental" and open to "judgment." Grier and the league made a point to discuss this with the teams, so we'll have to see how it's called during the season.
Pass Incompletions: "Two feet down, clear control of the ball, we have a catch," Grier says. But "bang-bang" plays where a receiver gets two feet down, maybe even take a step, gets hit and drops the ball, even after hitting the ground, is incomplete. At least it's supposed to be. When Belichick asked what would happen if such a call is challenged, Grier said, "To me I still think it's incomplete."
This sounds like there's a whole lot of judgment in this one. And now it appears that the ground can cause an imcompletion, as demonstrated by the clip showing the Giants' Jeremy Shockey that Grier reviewed. The first part is obvious enough. I think that's stated to say, "This without a doubt, is a catch." But that second part. Are going to hear a referee say, "The receiver had possession with two feet down, but bang-bang, he lost the ball"?

And I guess the whole "makes an athletic move" is completely out the window. Mark my words, this will create a multitude of controversies, and Phil Simms won't know what's going on.

Taunting: In the examples shown during Patriots All Access, after a play, one player gets up and yells at another player while making chest-to-chest or facemask-to-facemask contact -- a.k.a. "getting in one's face."
"Any time you get this type of 'in-your-face' action, the league wants taunting called," Grier said.

Grier showed a clip of a play after which No. 50 "gets in the face" of an opponent. The opponent responded in kind. Belichick asked whether the penalty should be on No. 50 (for being the aggressor) or whether it should be offsetting penalties. Grier said he would have called one penalty on No. 50, "but if they got both of them, I wouldn't have any problem with that either. In my opinion, (No.) 50 starts this."

Well, I have a problem with it. And it's the same problem with a lot of these penalties. The officials miss half of this stuff, and the aggressor usually gets away with it. Most of the time, the answer is up to the coaches instilling discipline in their players, an area the Patriots have been generally successful. But when you have Troy Brown called for taunting last year, I have a hard time trusting the "judgment" of a lot of these officials.

The good news is that the league is actually trying to get a handle on this, which Grier admitted, "we let this kind of behavior get out of control a few years ago." Not that it was under control before that, they just pretended it wasn't happening.

Then again, "in-your-facing" was outlawed last year. Obviously that didn't work.

OK, Wrap It Up

Actually, I thought there was going to be a re-clarification to last year's clarifications of offensive holding, but no such luck. Apparently, it's OK to haul defensive tackles and linebackers out of the middle of the line on running plays. I guess the right people didn't see it as a problem.

I concede: No system is perfect. But with stuff like taunting, if they had nipped it in the bud, they wouldn't have this problem, and they wouldn't be like the rest of society, making new rules and laws to account for the lowest common denominator. As for the other changes, there just seems to be too much "well, it's a penalty, if the quarterback is in the pocket, and the receiver is more than 5 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, and the sun is in Aries ..."

I don't know when things got out of hand, but a lot of it has been since the onslaught of "protect the quarterback" rules, which have never been applied consistently across star power and pay grades. Either way, there will be much controversy surrounding these changes -- at least among fans -- this season, and there will be another slew of tweaks next season.

All Access, On Demand

As for Patriots All Access, I think I was just lucky to have run into it last week. The next Patriots All Access will be when New England opens training camp in late July. However, if you have Comcast, this episode is available under Sports & Fitness -> NFL Network -> Patriots ON DEMAND -> Shows -> All Access -> All Access Minicamp.

There is also a segment on the team traveling to New Orleans to pay respects to former teammate Marquise Hill, who died Memorial Day weekend in a jetskiing accident.

Additional segments include a very general overview of minicamp, a mention of fan voting for the Patriots Hall of Fame, a one-on-one with Belichick and Mike Lynch of WCVB-TV, a utterly useless "favorites" interview with Kyle Brady, and a one-on-one with Lynch and Rodney Harrison.

And there are commercials and a final "segment" looking ahead to segments planned for future All Access broadcasts. All told, there's probably about 15 minutes of actual programming in the 30-minute .. um, thing.


What do you think of the 2007 NFL rule changes?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    Great. They're crystal clear and fair to everyone.
    (1 vote)
  • 17%
    Good. They make sense and will benefit the game.
    (11 votes)
  • 46%
    Average. Some are good, some senseless.
    (29 votes)
  • 25%
    Fair. As usual, I'm more confused than last year.
    (16 votes)
  • 8%
    Poor. Just leave them alone!
    (5 votes)
62 votes total Vote Now