By Dan Bernstein
All the roster cuts have been made, and the practice squads constructed. So we now pause our annual excitement over the start of another NFL season for this important public service reminder — the league is always working to find creative ways to confuse us with remodeled rules that will be enforced in all kinds of new styles.
2017 is going to do just that, so let’s take a brief look as the latest rule changes and “points of emphasis” destined to be applied arbitrarily and, of course, decide games.
The most noticeable change will be the centralization of replay reviews, removing the sideline video kiosk and eliminating the spectacle of a referee chugging over and sticking his head under a curtain like an old-timey photographer lining up a ground-glass viewfinder. Many of the calls are still going to be wrong, but we may get to the wrong call faster this way so we can yell about it on Twitter.
Teams will not be allowed to do the leap-over-the-line thing to block a field goal or extra point. This is because Shea McClellin did it for the Patriots, and Shea McClellin is so prodigiously bad at football that anything he does successfully on a field is then summarily outlawed on principle. For example, if he correctly identifies a play-action fake and drops into proper zone coverage, nobody will ever be allowed to to do that again. No worries, however.
A receiver is now considered “defenseless” and will be afforded such protection under that rule if a defender approaches him from behind or from the side. This means that most incomplete passes will now go from being randomly decided pass interference penalties to also being personal fouls. So there is little reason not to throw the ball every time now, unless you are the Bears.
Overtime used to be 15 minutes, and now it is only 10 minutes, which is apparently enough minutes.
A backfield player in motion cannot make a crackback block, even if he is not more than two yards outside the tackle when the ball is snapped. So get that idea out of your head right now, mister. That stuff doesn’t fly around here anymore.
All illegal acts to conserve time are not permitted after the two-minute warning of either half, now. Think about that as you feel every precious moment of our finite period on earth slipping away, as we move inexorably toward our deaths. There is nothing you can do. Time always wins. The universe is expanding, and soon it could break apart. You are out of timeouts, and should have planned better.
Existing rules being emphasized include those regarding contact between receivers and defenders, especially coming off the line of scrimmage and at the top of routes. There is a good chance the league will finally begin to let the defender be more physical in these cases, to try reversing a trend that has made pass defense all but impossible. Kidding. I kid.
There will be extra attention paid to “unnecessary hits away from the flow of the play,” too, which means that players now have to somehow be able to magically determine what is going on everywhere else, not just in front of them. They will have a split second to decide to block someone, and must calculate proximity to anything else happening, despite years of coaching that has preached finishing the play regardless of facing consequences. Which is to say, this won’t end well.
Of course there is even more protection of the endangered quarterback, scrutinizing hits at or below the knee by a defender’s shoulder, helmet, forearm or chest. This is an attempt by the league to limit injuries at the highest-profile position, to keep their cowardly and racist owners from having to sign Colin Kaepernick and enrage a tiny group of their stupidest possible fans for about 36 hours. Teams with QB needs have avoided Kaepernick to the point of signing such luminaries as Joe Webb, Josh Woodrum and Dan Orlovsky. One team attempted to sign Norm Van Brocklin, only to be told that he died in 1983, and was now — according to top scouts – “slow in his progressions” and “very limited athletically.” Other quarterback prospects said to be ahead of Kaepernick on teams’ ready-lists include Tim Tebow, Johnny Manziel, Ryan Leaf and the actor who played Uncle Rico in Napoleon Dynamite.
So the league that plays around with its rules more than any other of the major sports is at it again, doing everything it can to keep us all befuddled. Every network that carries NFL games now has a fulltime rules expert on staff to begin to explain this all in real time, with even other broadcasters and some coaches learning as we go.
We’ll figure it out, eventually.