This week, the competition committee and NFL owners passed five rules for the upcoming NFL season. A few were safety related, such as making kickoff safety rules permanent and eliminating blindside block completely. However, there was one big NFL rule change that passed and one which the owners rejected.
Pass: Review of Pass Interference
The new rule change is that teams can now challenge pass interference calls on the field. Until now, the NFL did not allow either challenges or replay reviews of any kind of penalties. While no other penalties can still be reviewed, pass interference is probably the most controversial and impactful call on the field. It is the only penalty which does not limit the number of yards a team can gain, depending on where the interference occurred. Now, teams can challenge a play where they believe officials incorrectly called pass interference. Further, they can challenge the opposite types of plays as well. On a play where no foul is called, if they believe pass interference should have been called, a coach can throw his challenge flag.
Many people have called for pass interference to become reviewable in the past. But after last season’s NFC Championship game, it was almost certain that an NFL rule change about review of pass interference would occur. In that game the referees missed a blatant call which would have put the New Orleans Saints in position to run the clock out and kick the game winning field goal. However, because of the missed call, the Rams were able to tie the game and win in overtime. This cost the Saints a trip to the Super Bowl.
Ever since then, Saints head coach Sean Payton has been pushing the league’s owners to pass this rule. Now that pass interference is reviewable, players, coaches and fans alike have less to worry about officiating-wise. PI is the most missed call that severely affects the outcome of a game. Sometimes referees simply do not see the interference occur. Other times, they call a penalty on simply good coverage because it looks that way in real time. There is now a long overdue safeguard backing up refereeing mistakes down the field.
Failed: Replacing Onside Kick with 4th-and-15
On the other hand, an interesting rule proposition failed to pass. The Denver Broncos leadership had proposed that instead of an onside kick after scoring in the fourth quarter, each team receive one single-play opportunity to keep the ball in its possession. The ball would be placed on the team’s own 35 yard line and the team would have one chance to gain 15 yards and keep the ball. If the team would not convert, the opposing team would take over at the dead ball spot. This essentially would have been a 4th and 15 play.
Earlier, this week, most members of the competition committee approved of this potential rule change. In fact, the only member to vote against it was Giants owner John Mara. Mara thought the play would have been gimmicky and criticized it saying, “What are we, the Arena Football League?” Seemingly, other owners shared his opinion because it did not receive the number of owners’ votes necessary to pass. 24 out of the 32 owners must agree on any rule change for the NFL to approve the rule.
It is highly likely that this proposed rule change came from the AAF’s rules. The AAF, or Alliance of American Football, is a developmental football league that started in 2019. They have a rule in place where teams, after scoring, can attempt a 4th-down and 12 play from their own 28-yard line. If they get at least 12 yards and convert, they keep the ball. Otherwise, the opposing team takes over at the dead-ball spot. It is very close to and has the same premise as the NFL rule change which the Broncos offered. It would have been interesting to see how the NFL would have implemented this rule and how it affected teams’ play calling in the fourth quarter. But, maybe for the better, teams will have to stick to the difficult onside kick conversions for now.
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