For 2014, the league has made a few changes that could radically impact the game, especially where it concerns defensive holding, defensive illegal use of the hands, and false start calls against offensive linemen. While some changes to what could draw a flag seem to be subtle, the application of the rule changes or "points of emphasis" this season could have significant impacts on the game:
The rule prohibiting defensive holding now includes a defender grabbing the jersey of any offensive player. Observers believe this could be the most significant rule change going into this season. If an official sees a jersey pull, it is Defensive Holding; 5 yards and an automatic first down for the offense.
Eligible Receiver / Defender Contact
It will be a point of emphasis this year to call penalties for either the offensive or defensive player initiating contact with the opposing player after 5 yards down field from the line of scrimmage AND while the QB is "in the pocket or in the process of releasing the ball". An official is supposed to look into the offensive backfield when he sees defender initiated contact to determine if illegal contact has occurred. This will be a 5 yard and automatic first down if it has happened, in the judgment of the official. If an eligible receiver pushes off or initiates contact further than 5 yards down field, there is supposed to be a 10 yard offensive penalty, even if the ball is not in the air. 10 yard penalty with no change of down.
Illegal Use of Hands
Both offensive and defensive players are going to be closely watched this season for Hands to the Face. A hand being in the face of an opposing player is supposed to draw a flag this season, whenever there is force applied, even if the hand is moved away from the facemask area immediately. A Hands to the Face call with be a 5 yard and automatic first down penalty if called on the defense, a 10 yard penalty with the down remaining the same if called on the offense.
Pre-Snap Movement by Offensive Linemen
A false start penalty will be called if a lineman bobbles his head or makes "abrupt" gestures with the intention to draw the defense offside, even if a defender does not react. 5 yard penalty with the down remaining the same for the offense. (Author's Note: It would be nice to see this applied to QB’s, also.)
This rule has expanded to now make contact involving rolling up the side of a defender’s legs illegal. 15 yard personal foul, with the down remaining the same when flagged.
There are two additions to this rule:
1) "Foul language" - A 15 yard penalty can now be called against a player that directs profanity, slurs, or "derogatory" comments towards an official or another player. This is an entirely judgment-based call, as the NFL has not given the officials a list of banned words.
2) "Use of NFL Equipment as a Prop" – The excessive celebration category of the taunting category of unsportsmanlike conduct will now include using a football, the goal posts, pylons, down markers, or any other league equipment as a prop in a TD or first down celebration. Spiking the ball is still supposed to be OK, but it remains to be seen if simulating a dice throw, spinning the ball, or putting the ball on another team’s logo is good for a 15 yard flag.
(Of course, slamming into an opponent that celebrates on your own team’s logo is going to be called, just as it was in 2000.)
The Navarro Bowman Rule
A loose ball in the field of play is now reviewable. Previously, the only time a fumble or loose ball call could be reviewed was if it happened in the end zone. The NFL’s thinking changed after the 49er – Seahawk game for the NFC Title last January: (WARNING – Not only was this a horribly blown call of an obvious strip fumble that could not be reviewed, the injury to Navarro Bowman is absolutely gruesome to watch.)
More Eyes Rule
Replay officials on the field can now commune with a higher power (senior officials and management in the NFL’s Officiating Department in New York) when they go to the replay booth on the field during a game.
Clocks Keep Running After Sacks
I was surprised to see this rule, only because I did not realize that officials stopped the clock after a sack. Apparently, the clock only kept running after a sack in the last two minutes of the half before this rule change this year. The rationale for this change was to speed up the game.
When you watch the Hall of Fame Game on Sunday Night and the first two pre-season games for the Chargers, you may wonder why PAT kicks are taking place at the 15 yard line. The NFL is trying this out to see if it makes the game more interesting for consideration as an official rule change down the line. PAT’s will be back to the 3 yard line for the last two pre-season games and the 2014 regular season and playoffs though.
During the second week of pre-season (the Bolts – Seahawks game for us Charger fans) the NFL will add one official to SOME (not all) of the games that week. The additional ref will also line up in different places depending on the crew. Some crews will have the extra ref line up in the defensive backfield, others will be on the sideline at the line of scrimmage, and others will be lined up deep in the offensive backfield. The league will evaluate whether an extra ref is useful and if so, which position is most beneficial for the additional ref.
There you have them, all the things that will draw penalty and challenge flags during a game. Do you think these favor the offense more than the defense or vice-versa? Feel free to comment below and celebrate that teams actually start playing football again!