Thursday, 15 September 2011

New season, new rules in the NFL

This season sees a few slight rule changes introduced to American Football which are sure to have a big impact on teams. The NFL’s Competition Committee has introduced them, with the backing of the majority of NFL team owners, in the interests of increasing players’ safety.

The most obvious change will be apparent right from the kick off, as the ball will be kicked into play from the 35-yard line rather than the 30. Bringing the ball those five yards closer to the opposition will result in more kicks flying into the end-zone for a touch-back. The kicking team are also now only allowed a 5 yard run up, down from the previous 15 yards, decreasing their want of a player to even attempt a kick-off return. We will see less return attempts this season for big yardage but this should reduce injuries also, as the instances of 250 pound-plus players running into one another at nearly 30 kph will be few. Considering that in the past some players made a career of breaking opponents in two, you can see how it might upset some purists.

But you cannot keep players apart for long and when the game is underway there is a raft of new rules of what a defensive player can and cannot do to stop an opponent. A 15 yard penalty will be given to players who leap two footed off the ground and hit an opponent with their helmet; the definition of a defenceless player has been expanded to include, the quarterback while throwing the ball, a player attempting to catch the ball or a running back who is already being tackled. Will defenders have to line up one by one to make a tackle? Well, no. But if there are any more than two of them trying to wedge an opposing player, that’s still a penalty. On top of this, if a team is in constant breach of the rules they could incur more severe penalties, such as loss of draft picks. Good luck this season with that, Steelers!

While reducing the amount of injuries is in everyone’s best interests, it can’t but feel like an attempt by the NFL to soften up the sport for the introduction of the much talked about increase in the regular season game schedule. But would you want more games if the games weren’t as exciting?

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