New helmet rule would have been called infrequently last year

Aug. 2, 2013

The NFL’s new rule prohibiting ball carriers in the open field from striking an opponent with the crown of their helmet would have been called only three times last year, referee Bill Vinovich said Friday.

Vinovich presented and then answered reporters’ questions about the video that the NFL produced to explain and illustrate this year’s rules changes to teams and media. The video showed three examples of the new rule prohibiting backs from striking with their helmets, and Vinovich said those were the only three instances from all of last season.

One was of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson hitting a tackler like a battering ram.

“Adrian Peterson was probably the best example,” Vinovich said. “The old Barry Sanders and Walter Payton (runs), when they were out in the open field and said, ‘I’m just going to take you on.’ That’s what they want to eliminate.”

The new rule prevents ball carriers from striking with the crown of their helmet only under specific circumstances: First, the ball carrier has to line up his opponent and take him straight on; second, the contact has to be outside the tackle box, which means outside the tackles or at least three yards down field; and third, the ball carrier must lower his head and lead with the crown of his helmet.

The penalty is 15 yards.

So the rule doesn’t apply to a running back who lowers his head while plunging into the middle of the line. Also, if the ball carrier and tackler are approaching each other at an angle, the ball carrier may lower his head and not be penalized.

The rule was changed for the safety of the ball carrier as much as for the defender.
Here are the other rules changes and points of emphasis for 2013:

The “tuck rule” has been changed so that the throwing motion ends when the passer begins to pull the ball into his body. Previously, the throwing motion didn’t end until the ball had been tucked.

On place kicks, the long-snapper now is classified a “defenseless player” and can’t be hit in the head or neck area while in the snapping process. Defenses already were prohibited from lining up a player over the center. Defenses may make contact with the long-snapper while trying to split the gap between him and the guard, but they may not hit the long-snapper directly.

On place kicks, the defense can’t line up more than six players on one side of the long-snapper. It also can’t in effect create the force of two players hitting one blocker by having a player push a down lineman into the offensive line.

On kicks and punts, the defense no longer can hit players below the waist anywhere on the field, including along the line. The kicking team still may block rushers below the waist.

Peel-back blocks below the waist are now illegal inside the tackle box. They used to be illegal only outside the box. A peel-back block is when the blocker approaches a player from the side or behind.

The penalty for an illegal replay challenge has changed. Last year, if coach challenged a play that was to be reviewed automatically (i.e., a scoring or turnover play, or a play inside two minutes of each half and overtime), the penalty included forfeiture of the review. Now, the team will lose a timeout (or be penalized 15 yards if it has no timeout), but the automatic review will take place.

All players except punters and kickers have to wear thigh and knee pads.

The officials each season have points of emphasis for existing rules. This year’s are:

Calling facemask penalties on running backs who control or twist an opponent’s facemask with a stiff arm.

Penalizing players who taunt verbally or by throwing, spiking or spinning the ball at an opponent. Officials will be looking to penalize instigators.

Penalizing late hits around the pile when players are down or when their forward progress is stopped and the play is blown dead.

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