Seattle Seahawks

John McGrath: Not all NFL rule changes are bad, but some are just plain confusing

This June 25, 2015 file photo shows Dean Blandino, vice president of officiating for the NFL, presenting the new technology that the NFL uses in the prevention and diagnosis of injuries, during a league news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. The chop block has been entirely outlawed from NFL games, and extra-point kicks snapped from the 15-yard line are now permanent.
This June 25, 2015 file photo shows Dean Blandino, vice president of officiating for the NFL, presenting the new technology that the NFL uses in the prevention and diagnosis of injuries, during a league news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. The chop block has been entirely outlawed from NFL games, and extra-point kicks snapped from the 15-yard line are now permanent. The Associated Press

Every spring, NFL owners convene at a warm-weather resort to discuss the sport’s ever-expanding rule book. It’s obvious the owners enjoy the process, because the rules they don’t change at the resort typically are tabled for debate at the next resort.

Seven rules were passed Tuesday, including spotting the ball at the 15-yard line for extra-point kicks. You might recall the decision to add a degree of difficulty to automatic kicks was put in place last season, but the owners like voting on rules. They like it so much, they even vote on rules that already are rules.

Another rule adopted Tuesday is to penalize a team five yards for calling a time out when it doesn’t have a time out to use.

I’d assumed this rule had been in place since Jim Thorpe’s days as league commissioner. Shows what I know.

I do know it’s illegal for a tackler to take down an opponent by grabbing onto the top of his jersey. The NFL now has expanded the definition of the “horse-collar” area to include the nameplate.

This makes sense, although I should point out some players wear dreadlocks long enough to obscure their jersey nameplate, and that it remains legal to tackle a ball-carrier by his hair.

A rules change would seem in order — either prohibit dreadlocks, or prohibit tacklers from pulling on them — but that’s another story for another resort.

New rules tend to confuse me, especially when the new rules apply to old rules that confuse me. But one rule that achieved consensus actually simplified something.

Chop blocking is history, and good riddance. Distracting a defensive tackle by placing his primary blocking foe in an upright position, while another offensive lineman goes low, at the defensive tackle’s knees, combines sound strategy with a brutal concept that mocks sportsmanship.

There was no excuse for chop blocking in the NFL. Heck, there’s no excuse for chop blocking in an alley brawl. Two-on-one, and the second guy attacks in the mode of a stealth missile?

In what universe is that interpreted as a fair fight?

But until Tuesday, the NFL tolerated it on certain running plays, depending on the positioning of the chop blockers. A center and guard were allowed to conspire as a tandem, for instance, but not a center and a tackle.

Since the retirement of Hall-of-Fame left tackle Walter Jones, the Seahawks offensive line has been the weakest link of a championship-caliber team. Absent experience and athleticism, the line mitigated its deficiencies with a zone-blocking scheme that demands chop blocks.

The Hawks broke no rules. They merely practiced a technique mastered during the late 1990s by the Denver Broncos, whose offensive line coach, Alex Gibbs, taught the same principles as Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable.

But it wasn’t a coincidence that two years after San Francisco nose tackle Ian Williams suffered a broken ankle against the Seahawks, Detroit defensive tackle Tyrunn Walker remained in Seattle, where he underwent emergency surgery last season for an open fracture in his left leg.

Whenever the NFL implements rules that enhance the well-being of its players, there figures to be some backlash from fans decrying the league’s gradual transformation from violent-collision sport into a version of touch football the Kennedy Family once played on the White House lawn.

It’s a criticism more casually offered from an easy chair in the downstairs man-cave than a hospital bed 2,000 miles from home.

There was no justification for the chop block, no reason for it to be regarded as viable in a sport where careers can end on any given snap.

Meanwhile, the cut block — taking the low road to a one-on-one confrontation by striking an opponent’s knees — is permissible.

No wonder NFL players command such crazy salaries. Their job on Sunday requires them to flatten the other guy by any means necessary, and they wake up Monday with their bodies aching and their hearts torn.

My guess is that the Seahawks’ offensive linemen, whoever they are, didn’t publicly applaud the NFL’s absolute prohibition of chop-blocking.

But deep down? I suspect they’re OK, even pleased, with a rule change that outlaws barbarity.

  Comments