Along with a new policy for conduct during the national anthem, NFL owners approved two rule changes for the 2018 season at the annual meeting in Atlanta:
New kickoff rules
To be adopted, a new rule/revision must have the support of 75% of owners (24 yes votes out of 32 clubs). Here’s a look at the proposed changes compared to the current kickoff rule. pic.twitter.com/mvuBVfd5Du— NFL Football Operations (@NFLFootballOps) May 16, 2018
No running starts
Under the old rules, players could start at the 30-yard line and get a running start, so long as they didn’t cross the 35-yard line before the kick. The new rule will force players to wait at the 34-yard line.
The goal is to slow down the coverage unit a bit and reduce the speed of collisions with blockers.
Most of the return team is confined to a “setup zone”
Eight of the return team’s 11 players will now begin a kickoff in a 15-yard zone near midfield. Previously, blockers were allowed to start anywhere, so long as they were behind their “restraining line”, which was 10 yards from the kicking team.
This will force blockers to run down the field with the coverage team, making blocking similar to that of a punt.
No wedge blocks
With eight players in the “setup zone”, that leaves two blockers and a returner near the goal line. Those two players cannot team up to both block the same player. Wedges have been gradually phased out of the NFL, with the rule dwindling down to just two-player wedges in 2009. They have now been removed altogether.
No blocking in the first 15 yards
This new rule will force the return team blockers to wait until the coverage unit has crossed midfield before engaging. This solves two things:
The biggest danger of a huge collision would come if a player on the coverage team manages to get through the first wave of the return team unblocked. That’d be more likely if they were able to make a blocker whiff right away. Imagine it like a gunner on a punt team who gets a free release. By forcing blockers to wait, they’ll have a better chance of at least slowing the coverage team down.
It takes away what the NFL calls the “jump-set/attack” block. The coverage team can’t be blindsided by blockers when they know exactly where the blocking will begin.
Ultimately, this protects both sides.
No need to kneel
If a ball gets to the end zone and touches the ground, it’s an automatic touchback. There’s no need for a player to pick it up and kneel, or even catch a ball if it’s headed for the end zone and they don’t intend to return it.
This is a small time saver, but the goal is to blow a play dead earlier so that unnecessary collisions don’t happen. Under the previous rules, a player could take their time gathering a ball and kneeling while the coverage team and return team blockers still careened toward each other for no reason.
Ejections now reviewable
With the passage of a new rule in March governing helmet-to-helmet collisions that could result in ejections at the referee’s jurisdiction, the owners decided to make ejections reviewable. I’m sure this is going to be a subject of intense controversy when the first ejection is doled out, but hey. It’s NFL football. Nearly every call is controversial.
Let’s just hope it’s not a call against the Los Angeles Rams that determines, in part, the outcome of one of our games...