NFL rules changes take effect, with greater player safety a goal

Referees Robert Frazer, left, John Vachon, center, and Lemuel Hawkins, right, confer after throwing a penalty flag during a New York Giants-Carolina Panthers game on Sept. 23, 2012.
(Grant Halverson / Getty Images)

A number of playing-rules changes were approved by NFL clubs during the spring, the league saying the primary focus of those changes was to enhance player safety. New rules for this season, according to the NFL:

UNNECESSARY ROUGHNESS: Several adjustments were made to the unnecessary roughness rule. 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. Three elements must all be present for a flag to be thrown. The player must 1) line up his opponent, 2) lower his head, and 3) deliver a forcible blow with the crown of his helmet.


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

• The rules for low blocks also have been modified. 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 [point-after-touchdown] attempts.

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

In 2010, defensive players were prohibited from lining up over the snapper on scrimmage kicks. Now, in addition, on field-goal and PAT attempts the snapper has been afforded additional protections and will now be considered a defenseless player.

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 automatically assessed a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.

TUCK RULE: Any loss of control after a passer starts to tuck the ball back toward 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.