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NFL Rule Changes in 2013

The NFL changed a lot of rules over the offseason, so how about a quick refresher course.

Joe Robbins

It's the scent of freshness as roses bloom. The dew you smell from the grass when the sun stretches its arms with a blissful wake-up call sung by protective angels perched on our vulnerable shoulders. Butterflies swim through the morning air, adding color to an otherwise gray world. Dude, this isn't baseball. Less poetry when introducing the arrival of football, please. Alright. When the league created new rules over the offseason, they created them so that people wouldn't die! More manly? Yes, that works.

Let's review the rule changes in 2013.

Equipment: All players – with the exception of punters and kickers – will be wearing thigh and knee pads this season. This ensures an equality of competition.

Unnecessary roughness: Several adjustments were made to the unnecessary roughness rule in the interests of player safety. All unnecessary roughness violations result in a 15-yard penalty and may warrant discipline.

It is illegal for a runner or tackler to initiate forcible contact by delivering a blow with the top or crown of his helmet against an opponent when both players are clearly outside the tackle box. This rule change is designed to protect not only the player receiving the blow, but also the player delivering it. There are three components for this foul to be enforced:

  1. the player must line up his opponent;
  2. he must lower his head; and
  3. he must deliver a forcible blow with the crown of his helmet to any part of the defender’s body

Defensive players are prohibited from pushing down linemen into the offensive formation.

The rules for low blocks have also been modified as part of this change. Going forward, the defense will be prohibited from blocking below the waist at any time during a down in which there is a scrimmage kick, which includes punts, field goals and PAT attempts. In 2010, defensive players were prohibited from lining up over the snapper on scrimmage kicks. That restriction is still in place. On field-goal and PAT attempts, the snapper has been afforded additional protections and will now be considered a defenseless player.

Beginning in 2013, the peel-back block will be illegal anywhere in the field of play. Previously, this tactic was only illegal outside the tackle box.

Illegal formation: The defense cannot have more than six players on the line of scrimmage on either side of the snapper during kicking plays. This rule is designed to protect players who are in a vulnerable position. Violations of this rule will result in a five-yard penalty.

Instant replay: Plays may now be reviewed even if a head coach erroneously throws the challenge flag on plays that are subject to automatic review. If a coach challenges a scoring play, a turnover, a play that began inside the two-minute warning of either half or during an overtime period, that team will be automatically charged a timeout. If the team has no timeouts remaining, it will be assessed a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Tuck rule: Any loss of control after a passer starts to tuck the ball back towards his body will be a fumble. Prior to this change, it was a pass until a passer tucked the ball all the way back into his body. Now the forward passing motion ends once a passer begins a tuck.

All rules that encourage player safety will continue to be strictly enforced, including players hitting opponents late around the pile and on the ground, and runners grabbing the facemask of defensive players. In order to help players recognize when the play is over, game officials will be instructed to blow their whistles at the end of every play. All violations related to player safety are subject to potential fines and, in some instances, could lead to a suspension. The focus is on eliminating these tactics from the game.

Sportsmanship is always a point of emphasis. Officials have been instructed to pay particularly close attention to taunting. Directing verbal abuse at an opponent has no place in the NFL, and officials will be expected to set the tone by penalizing instigating players early in games. Spiking or spinning the ball in the direction of an opponent is also considered taunting.