Fewer fines with new safety rules
No NFL players have come close to being suspended for illegal
hits through five weeks of the season. The number of fines for such
hits is down.
That’s an indication players are adjusting their tackling
styles, well aware of the increasing emphasis on player safety. It
hardly makes pro football the safest sport out there, and the rules
remain fuzzy for many defensive players, including Bears star
linebacker Brian Urlacher. He was penalized for what certainly
appeared to be a shoulder-on-shoulder tackle on Tony Scheffler in
Monday night’s victory by the Lions. One play later, Matthew
Stafford hit Brandon Pettigrew for an 18-yard touchdown.
”I would never say there is no gray area,” NFL executive vice
president of football operations Ray Anderson told The Associated
Press on Tuesday. ”But on the field, officials are doing the job
they should be.
”We are moving full speed with our emphasis on safety and on
protecting defenseless players and we will be aggressive on
protecting player safety, very protective. Certainly everyone will
need more education as we go along and we will proceed on that.
”There have been fewer fines, but not significantly fewer. We
have come nowhere near any suspension decisions and that is
Just under one year ago, the league clamped down on flagrant
hits after a weekend of reckless tackling led to hefty fines for
Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison, New England safety Brandon
Meriweather (now with Chicago) and Atlanta cornerback Dunta
Robinson. In the offseason, owners passed rules suggested by the
competition committee, which Anderson oversees along with Falcons
President Rich McKay, that further protected defenseless players.
That included attempts to eliminate launching at an opponent
headfirst, among the most dangerous maneuvers in football – or any
sport, for that matter.
The committee hoped coaches and players would readily adapt.
Anderson and McKay are seeing evidence they have.
So is Commissioner Roger Goodell.
”I think we showed a reel of plays today that showed the game
has changed,” Goodell said. ”Players are using techniques other
than using their (helmets). We’re seeing significant change.”
Added Anderson: ”It certainly appears players have lowered
their targets, adjusted their play. We are seeing more fundamental
tackling and we are encouraged by that.”
Following the 4 1/2-month lockout, there was concern that such
fundamentals would be lost as teams hurried to get playbooks
installed, evaluate talent and prepare for the regular season.
Instead, Anderson and McKay are seeing a safer game, albeit through
only five weeks of a 17-week schedule.
”Certainly coaches are doing a better job coaching to the
rules,” Anderson said. ”Players seem to be playing to the rules
better, and that also is encouraging.”
The most controversial rules change this year came in the
kicking game, with kickoffs moved up to the 35-yard line. McKay
notes that touchbacks are up more than the league anticipated,
which also could be a function of good weather.
”It has not affected offensive production from a scoring
standpoint,” he added with a sly smile.
No, it hasn’t:
-The 3,566 points scored through Week 5 are the most at this
point of any season in NFL history.
-Total net yards per game (712.0) would be the highest for any
season should it hold.
-Net yards passing per game (489.2) would be the highest of any
-The 46.31 points per game would be the second-highest average
for a single season in NFL history (1948, 46.48).
While McKay said there has been no ”backlash” regarding the
kickoff rule and the subsequent reduction in returns, one of
football’s most exciting and dangerous plays, he admitted: ”We
knew it was a change and it would be one that initially was not
perceived positively. It was done 100 percent for safety
Goodell mentioned a ”new tracking system” for injuries that
should enable the league to be on top of any trends.
”When injuries occur, we can see how, see video of them, what
type of injuries they are,” he said.
Perhaps as notable – and noticeable – as the kickoff change has
been the decision to conduct video reviews of every scoring play.
The league’s goal has been to make it noninvasive and Anderson said
the amount of delay time has been slightly down this season. He
hoped it would be ”neutral” and credits that reduction in delays
to the mechanics of the system involving the replay booth and the
The key should not be time saved, however, it should be getting
calls right. Impetus for the change came because coaches of road
teams were not always getting a fair shake when it came to replays
made available in away stadiums.
One problem that could arise from reviewing every touchdown,
field goal, safety and extra point is having on-field officials
signal a score when in doubt, knowing the play will be
”We’ve always worried that people will officiate based on
replay, but there is no evidence at all of that,” McKay said.
One other item that came up this season was defensive players
faking injuries to slow no-huddle offenses, something the New York
Giants were accused of in their Week 2 victory over St. Louis. The
league sent a memo to each team emphasizing the need to eliminate
Anderson said that has not been an issue since.