The Alliance of American Football will kick off its inaugural season this Saturday and their official rule book was released Thursday with a few interesting differences than the NFL rules.
The differences that caught the most attention this week were the new kickoff and extra point rules they will be implementing.
(Note: It has since been revealed that the onside kick will be replaced with a fourth-and-12 situation from the team’s own 28-yard line.)
One of the biggest challenges the NFL has dealt with over the years was the volume of injuries on kickoffs. The play is the most dangerous in the sport and there was talk of removing it entirely in recent years. The NFL tried to alleviate the situation by removing the run up room by the coverage team, moving the line of scrimmage on touchbacks from the 20 to the 25 and even moving the actual location of the kickoff on the field.
The AAF has fixed the issue by just removing the play entirely. Instead of a kickoff, teams will just start the ensuing possession after a score at the 25 yard line—as if the kickoff was a touchback.
The main concern around removing the kickoff from the NFL was removing onside kicks. If a team who scores does not have the opportunity to immediately regain possession then it makes late-game comebacks nearly impossible. The Alliance will instead replace the onside kick by giving the “kicking” team a chance to convert a fourth-and 12 from their own 28 to retain possession. If they convert, they get the ball right back. If they fail they give up the ball in great field position.
Extra points were removed from the game as well. Instead, teams will be forced to attempt a two-point conversion after scoring a touchdown. This should add more variance to games and give players more experience in tense, high-pressure situations.
The league will also have less commercials but that’s probably because it is a new league that does not have a lot of sponsors. It is a bug, not a feature.
While those changes were well received, there were a few other changes that flew under the radar that seem... odd.
ESPN’s Michael Rothstein pointed out a few interesting changes on Twitter Thursday:
A lot of people will focus on the no kickoffs in the AAF, but to me these two changes are way more intriguing (overtime and blitzing — I’ll have more on the blitzing this week): pic.twitter.com/sgQeDVd5vp— Michael Rothstein (@mikerothstein) February 7, 2019
The AAF will heavily restrict the creativity of its defenses. Only five players are allowed to rush the passer on every snap, and the players who rush must be within 2 yards of the offensive line. Only five players are allowed to line up within 2 yards of the offensive line, meaning that a defense is not allowed to disguise which five players may rush on any given play. This is a rule change to will be beneficial to offensive linemen and quarterbacks as their pre-snap reads will be a lot easier.
This will create an interesting dynamic in quarterback play, though. In the NFL, for example, quarterbacks like Kirk Cousins and Jared Goff excel in perfect conditions. Both can make any throw from a clean pocket. As long as nothing too confusing is happening up front with the defense, they will usually be able to quickly go through their progressions and make a good decision with the ball.
Both Cousins and Goff struggle when they are not in ideal situations, though. Both have issues recognizing exotic pressure packages and coverages. Both make a lot of unforced errors when they are confused. These rule changes in the AAF will benefit quarterbacks who are similar to Cousins and Goff, but make it harder for quarterbacks with more cognitive ability pre-snap to distance themselves from their peers.
UPDATE: Bill Polian, the co-founder of the AAF, explained the reasoning for this drastic rule change to ESPN:
“With less than a month to get our teams ready to play, the hardest part to get cohesiveness in is the offensive line,” Polian said. “So if we came with all the exotic blitzes that we see, which is basically coming out of the secondary, they couldn’t pick it up and we’re going to get quarterbacks hurt, and it’s not much of a game, honestly. Nobody wants to see the quarterback sacked repeatedly.”
There are also new overtime rules. Each team will get the ball at the opposing 10-yard line in a “goal to go” situation. The team will have four downs to score a touchdown—field goals are banned in overtime—and both teams will get a chance to have their offense on the field. Teams can only earn a first down through penalty. However, there is only a maximum of two possessions per team in overtime. If the game is still tied after two possessions for each team, the game ends in a tie.
These changes are welcome, and the removal of overtime field goals is especially exciting. One of the main issues that college football overtimes face is that the team who posses the ball first does not know whether they need a touchdown or field goal in order extend/win the game. By removing the field goal, the team that posses the balls second loses their main advantage, creating a more fair overtime.
We will not know until this weekend how the rules will play out of a football field. As of now, it looks like there is a lot to be excited about for this weekend of football.