Every NFL Sunday, this scene repeats itself as coaches, coaches and fans are often dumbfounded over an official's call. But sometimes it's not the fault of the men in stripes. The late Hank Stram had it wrong — referees aren't "overofficious jerks." — instead merely unfortunate messengers, following a dizzying bible of NFL bylaws. Mostly the NFL rule-makers are overthinking, making life too difficult on themselves and their zebras. Adrian Hasenmayer is here to help with nine rules that need serious simplification.
A fumble is a fumble
Why can the ground cause an incomplete pass if the receiver does not control the ball upon crash landing, but the turf cannot create a fumble? Just as for receivers, ball-carriers should be forced to control the ball after being taken down, period. Enough never-ending replays, who cares if it was the ground or not that caused the loose ball? Sure, there'll be a lot more defenders trying to jar the bar loose late in the play. But you know what? If you lose the ball, tough. Hold on tighter next time. — Adrian Hasenmayer
Lose the cheesy wedge
A couple problems with this blocking technique on kickoffs: First, safety-wise lining up and getting four guys at over 1,000 pounds next to each other (sometimes even locking arms) while guided missiles on coverage teams exploded into them is morbidly fun to watch, but almost inhumane. But second, how elementary school is this "technique?" When do teams start creating cheerleader pyramids while trying to block extra points? The NFL has limited the wedge maximum from four players to two, but the traditional practice should be done away with altogether.
Stop automatic home playoff games for division champs
Back in January, the NFL playoff system was being ripped for not only an 7-9 team making the playoffs, but for actually getting to host a wild-card game when the NFC West "champion" Seahawks enjoyed home cookin' vs. the defending Super Bowl champs, the 11-5 Saints in Seattle. Lo and behold, an inspired Seahawks team fed off their 12th man and pulled off the upset, only to get squashed the following week in Chicago. Sure, it's nice to reward division winners. But this was embarrassing. Clearly, home playoff games should be decided by regular-season record.
Eject headhunters on the spot
I'm as bloodthirsty for high-speed collisions as the next fan, but there has to be a limit where the league protects these padded gladiators. The head, in all cases, must be the big no-no. We're in the 21st century and with all of our expensive equipment and fancy words, we still have little-to-no idea about the short- and long-term damage caused by concussions. But we have plenty of damning anecdotal evidence from ex-gridiron heroes. While it's easy to forget their humanity beneath the helmets and shoulder pads, let's look out for the superstars today so they can function tomorrow.
No more 47-yard pass interference calls
It's aggravating to watch a defense grind a team into a tough third-and-long situation, only for the opposing QB to fire a bomb downfield hoping to luck into a ticky-tack pass-interference call, with the official placing the ball at the spot of the foul. While I understand the flexible P.I. penalty rule, it's too extreme and can be a cruel joke. To assume a catch in EVERY P.I. situation makes it worse. Solution: Cap penalty yardage for pass interference calls at 25 yards. This way big-armed passers can't simply chuck one deep, then be rewarded by more than one quarter of the field's length.
Cut the chop block
NFL fans love collisions and contact, but not blown-out ACLs — especially by our favorite players. If you're not tough or skilled enough to block a guy man-to-man above the waist, that's your problem. Why should a bigger, stronger player be put at risk because of the blocker's inadequacy? How about immediate ejections for perpetrators?
Stop penalizing incidental QB contact
Until defensive players can freeze in mid-flight Matrix-style during mad rushes to the quarterback, the NFL must cease the overreactive fines and use common sense to understand that many of the bogus flags for late hits on QBs can't be avoided. In plenty of cases the contact was overblown and the official should have swallowed his whistle. Player safety is a worthy goal, but these are grown men who chose this profession . . . and fans aren't paying hard-earned bucks to watch flag football.
Chuck the tuck
I dare you to read this explanation of the "tuck rule," originally introduced in 1999: NFL Rule 3, Section 21, Article 2, Note 2: When (an offensive) player is holding the ball to pass it forward, any intentional forward movement of his arm starts a forward pass, even if the player loses possession of the ball as he is attempting to tuck it back toward his body. Also, if the player has tucked the ball into his body and then loses possession, it is a fumble. Umm, OK. How about this: If the QB throws the ball forward past his current location on the field, it's a pass. Tuck motion or not, if the ball slips out of the QB's hand behind the line of scrimmage, it's a fumble. Next question.
In OT, guarantee each team a possession, always
The NFL's OT rules are not too out-of-whack, and certainly not the buffoonish video-game style used by college football — really, each team already gets the ball in scoring range (and stats count, too)? Way to make a team "earn" the W. Just one simple tweak is needed to keep fifth-quarter coin tosses from carrying too much weight — guarantee both teams a possession. It's so simple, my brain hurts. Sure, the NFL has done it for the playoffs. But why not for the regular season, too?