Sports take: New NFL rules help protect the players but also ruin the game

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning is sacked during the second half of an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints, Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018, in East Rutherford, N.J. Associated Press

By Adam Gibson | Sports Writer

The NFL makes changes to its rules every year to try and make the game of football safer for the players, and to help the referees out when it comes to making the correct call during games. Some of the new rules introduced this season help clarify different aspects of the game. Some of the other rules, on the other hand, seem to hurt the game of football, making it less watchable for viewers and harder on players to play the game they have been playing their entire lives.

The new catch rule is one which the NFL needed to fix as it seemed like no one — the referees or viewers — could actually figure out. One of the most memorable times the 2017 catch rule came into question was in the Super Bowl when Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz leapt into the end zone with three minutes left in the game. After multiple reviews, the ruling was a completed catch. Just a few weeks prior, Steelers tight end Jesse James had the go-ahead touchdown to win against the Patriots, which would have most likely sent them to the Super Bowl. When James dove, he had control of the ball, reached out for the goal line and when he hit the ground, it had movement. Whether there was enough movement to overturn the call seemed to be the most controversial aspect of that game.

This season, the NFL voted on three simple rules to determine how to make these difficult calls: 1. “Have control of the ball, get two feet or another body part down and to make a football move, such as a third step, reaching or extending for the line-to-gain, or having the ability to perform such an act,” according to NFL Operations. 2. “A player no longer must control the ball through the ground for a completed catch, and movement of the ball does not automatically result in loss of control. If a player loses control of the ball, it is an incomplete pass if the ball hits the ground before he regains control, or if he regains control out of bounds.” 3. A receiver is considered defenseless throughout the entire process of a catch, up until the player is capable of avoiding or warding off impending contact.”

One of the biggest changes for this year is the new “use of helmet” rule. This rule constitutes that it is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against his opponent. That goes for both offensive and defensive players, and lowering your head to initiate contact to any part of the opponent — not just the head or neck area— is now a foul. This is a big new rule because it helps to protect both the player initiating the contact and the one being hit. Now players must be aware of where their heads are when they go in to tackle, hopefully resulting in less injuries all around. Players can be ejected for fouls involving the use of the helmet. (The ejection will be reviewed by senior officials in New York before the ejection is confirmed.) The cause for ejection must show that “the player lowers his helmet to establish a linear body posture prior to initiating and making contact with the helmet; the player delivering the blow had an unobstructed path to his opponent; and if the contact was clearly avoidable,” according to NFL Operations.

Another rule that has had a huge impact on the game so far this season is the new roughing the passer rule, in which a player has to now avoid putting all or most of his body weight on the quarterback if he sacks him. This rule has made it almost impossible for defensive players to sack or tackle the quarterback without receiving a penalty. The players still have to wrap up the quarterback when they hit him and somehow still tackle him but keep themselves from landing on him. So far this season, it seems to be the most disliked penalty.

Some new rules also in place this season which don’t have as big of an impact as the new catch and helmet rules are the kickoff, illegal batting and kicking the ball rules. The players are no longer allowed to get a running start before the ball is kicked. They must now wait to go downfield until the ball is kicked. No player from either team can block within the 15-yards from the kicking teams’ line and within 10 yards on onside kicks. When it comes to batting or kicking the ball, a player cannot bat the loose ball toward his opponent’s goal line or any ball that has touched the ground in any direction if it’s in the end zone. Kicking a ball that is loose or in a player’s possession is not legal in any form. The only time kicking is allowed is on kickoffs, pat attempts and punts.

With these rules being the biggest rule changes for the new season, NFL viewers will see a few more flags thrown for penalties dealing with these specific changes. A full list of 2018 NFL rules can be found on the NFL Operations website.