By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) The NFL is on top of the sports world and it has been for decades.
However, despite huge television ratings and sellout crowds in the vast majority of the stadiums on a year-in and year-out basis, the powers that be in the NFL are constantly changing the rule.
Sometimes it’s the eye-opening rule change that took place when NFL owners voted to penalize offensive players for using the crown of their helmet to attack defenders when they get outside the tackle box.
It’s also a decision to get rid of the tuck rule, a move that was applauded by all except the New England Patriots (see Jan., 2002 playoff game vs. Raiders). The league also passed a rule that will keep receivers from going downfield and peeling back to block linebackers. Tight ends will also be able to wear numbers between 40 and 49 in addition to 80 and 89.
Woo-woo on that last one.
The point is that if you don’t like a rule in the NFL, don’t worry, it will change.
The most popular sports league in North America tinkers with its rules every year. Sometimes the rule changes are major and sometimes they are minor, but they are always a-changing.
The crown of the helmet rule when applied to running backs changes the fabric of the game. It could cause significant issues for a dominating power back like Adrian Peterson, and other strong backs like Steven Jackson and Matt Forte.
If a running back is sprinting down the sidelines after breaking through the initial wave of tacklers, he should be able to follow the new rule with a stiff arm or lowering the shoulder.
However, what if the running back takes the ball to the outside and faces an onrushing linebacker as he eyes the line of scrimmage? He’s going to get as low as possible – as he has been taught throughout his career – and take on the tacklers. When the crown of his helmet makes contact with the tackler, a flag will be thrown.
But the rule also penalizes the defender for lowering his helmet and making contact. When both players are flagged on the same play, the penalties will offset and the down will be replayed.
Prior to the 2012 season, the NFL changed its overtime rule to allow both teams to get a possession if the receiving team kicked a successful field goal on its first possession in regular-season games. That rule had been previously applied for teams involved in postseason games.
The NFL also made having 12 men on the field (with the snap imminent) a dead-ball foul and the also expanded the defenseless player rule to include crack-back blocks by receivers on defensive backs.
Prior to the 2011 season, the NFL moved the kickoffs from the 30- to the 35-yard line. That was also the season that all scoring plays were reviewed by the booth and not by a coach’s challenge.
In 2010, players were impacted by the “defenseless player” rule. Defensive players were penalized for launching themselves into receivers who either just caught the ball or just attempted to catch the ball and were not in a position to brace themselves for the blow.
That was a major change and three years later, that’s one rule change that many players still don’t fully understand.
That was the year that the league also prevented defensive players from lining up directly opposite the center on field goals, extra points and punts.
Other sports will change their rules on occasion, but the NFL does it every season. Sometimes major, sometimes minor.
It would be bad enough if it was just fans and media who didn’t understand the rule changes. But when you watch the games on an every-week basis, it’s often the coaches (that’s you, Jim Schwartz) and the officials themselves who struggle with the interpretations.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.