As we found out earlier this week, there will not be a "Calvin Johnson rule" implemented in order to clarify what is and isn't a catch. The NFL Competition Committee feels the current rules are clear enough, even though similar plays have been called differently in the past. I don't understand the thinking at all, but this is the NFL Competition Committee we're talking about, so it's not too surprising.
At next week's owners meetings in New Orleans, the competition committee will propose moving the kickoff up to the 35-yard line, and bringing a touchback out to the 25. There would be no changes for touchbacks on any other plays, with the ball coming out to the 20.
No player other than the kicker would be allowed to line up more than 5 yards behind the ball, and the committee will suggest outlawing the wedge on kickoffs; all blocking wedges were reduced to two players in 2009.
It seems because injuries are so common on kickoffs, the solution in the mind of the NFL Competition Committee is to decrease the amount of kick returns. Moving kickoffs up to the 35-yard line seems like it would greatly increase the amount of touchbacks. Not only that, but with touchbacks giving the return team the ball at the 25-yard line, returners are going to be less likely to run a kick out of the end zone.
While I understand that injuries are an issue on kickoffs, changing the rules to reduce the amount of kick returns is altering a big part of the game. The Lions benefited greatly last season from having a dangerous returner in Stefan Logan, and these new rules don't seem very positive for someone like him. Sure, the return team benefits from having the ball at the 25 with a touchback, but if the ball is being booted out of the end zone by some kickers (or all kickers at a game in Denver), Logan is taken out of the game completely.
The NFL Competition Committee will also propose two replay-related changes:
• Committee will propose making all scoring plays reviewable. Replay official would order replays on any touchdowns, field goals, safeties and extra points without the coaches needing to challenge. Similar to current system for final two minutes of each half and overtime.
• Eliminating third coach's challenge if he is successful on first two.
The first change I don't have a problem with, but I still don't like the replay system in general. College has it right with all close calls being reviewed and coaches getting one challenge a game. That way if something slips through the cracks coaches can make sure the play gets reviewed, and more often than not anything close will be reviewed anyway.
In the NFL, if there is an obviously blown call and you're out of challenges, then there's nothing that can be done unless the game is in the last two minutes of the half. The new rule change would make sure that scoring plays can be looked at no matter what, but what if there is a long pass thrown and caught at the one-yard line? Let's say it happened just before the two-minute warning of the fourth quarter and the referee didn't see the receiver's second foot come down inbounds and ruled it incomplete. Let's also say two obviously bad calls were made earlier in the game, requiring a team to use all of its challenges. Now a situation would exist where a team is getting screwed over because of bad officiating and has no power to correct it. In college the close call would be reviewed, especially that late in the game.
Adding to the awfulness of the NFL replay system is the second bullet point. Falcons president Rich McKay, who is the chairman of the NFL Competition Committee, says that because the third challenge was rarely used it should be eliminated. How does that even make sense, though? Coaches shouldn't lose challenges for getting blown calls overturned in the first place, so the rule giving out a third challenge for two successful ones was a nice addition to the rulebook. Just because it doesn't get used often doesn't mean it should be removed. In the scenario I presented in the above paragraph, a coach could have a third challenge and get the blown call corrected, but not if this proposed change is made.
One change that already appears to be for sure coming to the NFL is an alteration with what constitutes a defenseless player. I don't believe this was the NFL Competition Committee's doing, but it will undoubtedly present quite a bit of controversy anyway, especially for fans of teams actually playing defense.
• A quarterback in the act of throwing;
• A receiver trying to catch a pass;
• A runner already in the grasp of tacklers and having his forward progress stopped;
• A player fielding a punt or a kickoff;
• A kicker or punter during the kick;
• A quarterback at any time after change of possession;
• A receiver who receives a blind-side block;
• A player already on the ground.
Player safety is important, but at the rate the NFL is going this will be a flag football league in five years.