Concerned with how it will be officiated, NFL owners delayed voting on Tuesday on a rule change that would ban attacking players from using the crown of their helmets against defenders in the open field.
After approving two other rule changes to enhance player safety, they stalled on the more contentious issue. NFL senior vice president of football operations Ray Anderson said the owners planned to vote on it yesterday, before the meetings ended.
The owners outlawed peel-back blocks anywhere on the field; previously, they were illegal only inside the tackle box. A player makes a peel-back block when he is moving toward his goal line, approaches an opponent from behind or the side, and makes contact below the waist.
The penalty will be 15 yards.
“Under no circumstances will you be permitted to block low below the waist when you’re blocking back towards your own end line,” said Rams coach Jeff Fisher, co-chairman of the competition committee.
Also banned is overloading a formation while attempting to block a field goal or extra point. Defensive teams can now have only six or less players on each side of the snapper at the line of scrimmage. Players not on the line cannot push teammates on the line into blockers, either.
The alignment violation is a five-yard penalty. The pushing penalty is 15 yards for unnecessary roughness.
“There were injuries, yes,” Fisher said. “Talking to coaches and the players, it’s just not something they look forward to doing. It’s like: ‘Oh, we scored again? We have to go out there and protect, kick an extra point or try?’”
However, the potential change that has drawn the most attention — even more than eliminating the infamous tuck rule, which seems to be a foregone conclusion and was to be voted on yesterday — is prohibiting ball carriers outside the tackle box from lowering their helmets and making contact with defenders with the crown.
New York Giants owner John Mara, a member of the competition committee that has recommended the change, said there was “a chance” a vote could be tabled until the May meetings in Boston.
“There was a spirited discussion,” Mara said.
Many coaches have said they are concerned about how such a new rule will be officiated.
“In all fairness, it’s going to be tough on the officials, it’s going to be tough to make that determination at live speed with one look,” said John Harbaugh of the Super Bowl champions, the Baltimore Ravens.
Harbaugh said that in the competition committee’s examination of one week of play last season, it found five instances where a ball carrier was not protecting the ball or himself and lowered his helmet to make contact with a defender.
Dean Blandino, recently promoted to vice president of officiating, said that five in 16 games was significant enough to consider banning the act.