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NFL Rule Changes Reshape the Strike Zone

NFL: Detroit Lions at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

This season, the NFL is very serious about cracking down on taunting of any form. Players will now be expected to play to the whistle and then hustle back to their huddles without any trash talking or the side show of making offensive hand and body gestures.

Having been asked by Duane Wisner, my good friend and fellow Birdganger. for my opinion on this latest rule adaptation from the NFL, I expressed my full approval:

What I would have like to add to my tweet is that I have often seen taunting as superfluous delays of the game.

As a former high school coach, I cannot count the number of time I must have said to my players: “Get back in the huddle —- shut up and play the game.”

As a Cardinals’ fan who was particularly incensed last season by the Cardinals’ lack of discipline in this matter —- I feel especially pleased that the NFL is saying: “No mas.”

But —- the new taunting rules are not the only big changes the NFL is trying to make this year.

There are HUGE changes in how players can block and how defenders can take on blockers.

  • No longer can blockers be taken out below the waist or knees by defenders.
  • Blockers, in return, are not allowed to take out defenders below the waist.

Therefore, defensive coaches can no longer instruct their players to upend blockers any chance they get —- nor can offensive coaches instruct their blockers in cut the defenders in half.

These rule changes are fitting a distinct pattern —- the NFL wants the vast majority of the hitting to take place at or around the players’ numbers. Coaches and players might as well envision bull’s eyes on the opponents’ numbers because the area above a player’s waist to the top of a player’s numbers has become the NFL’s own version of the STRIKE ZONE.

Are these rule changes a good idea?

For the sake of player safety and injury prevention —- the answer would appear to be a resounding yes.

For the last few years the same STRIKE ZONE rules have helped quarterbacks and defenseless receivers —- if defenders want to avoid penalties, they had better limit their hits to the area above the waist and below the top of the numbers.

Plus, the rules have helped edge defenders and special teamers because of the elimination of the “crack back” and “blind-side” blocks.

Now —- it is still perfectly legal for a defender to tackle a ball carrier below the waist and at the knees, shins or ankles. But, because the vast majority of the time NFL players are now required to keep their heads up, the new blocking rules may encourage and influence defenders to apply the correct, fundamentals of tackling, by keeping their heads up at or to one side of the numbers on higher tackles and by keeping their heads up on lower tackles.

As we know very well by now, the NFL has been very strict about players initiating contact with their helmets, particularly by lowering their heads. This was the best rule change ever, in my opinion.

The biggest problem with the helmet to helmet rule has been when a defender quickly narrows in on a tackle and the ball carrier quickly drops his head. The helmet to helmet contact in this case is more inadvertent than a clear case of targeting. But, if I were a defensive coach in the NFL, I would instruct my players to keep their heads up on bang-bang plays to absorb the hit up high rather than in the helmet —- but obviously, this is much easier said than done.

The question still remains about a bang-bang play, however, is whether the ball carrier by quickly dropping his head is the one who should be flagged on an inadvertent helmet to helmet hit. Typically the referees automatically flag the defensive player.

  • What do you think about this gray area with regard to inadvertent helmet to helmet contact?

Pad level will always been the most important aspect of blocking and tackling —- but, as the NFL keeps reshaping the STRIKE ZONE, chances are that the game will continue to become safer, cleaner and more consistently played by the fundamentals, while being just as exciting.

  • What do you think of the way the NFL rules are evolving?
  • What do you think of the 17 game schedule?
  • What do you think of a possible 18 game schedule?
  • Sean Kugler appears to be pull blocking with more regularity —- and Kliff Kingsbury may be wise to throw a greater number and variety of screens —- would you agree? Andy Reid is a screen master —- let’s see tonight how Kingsbury and Reid adapting to these rule changes!