A number of playing-rules changes were approved by NFL clubs during the spring. The primary focus of those changes was enhancing player safety.
"We want to make the game safer both for the player being tackled and the player making the tackle," says NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations RAY ANDERSON. "We have no higher priority than player safety."
The 2013 rules changes and points of emphasis:
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 potential 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 the crown of his helmet to any part of the defender's body.
If contact occurs inside the tackle box or if all three components are not present, there is no foul. If both players are moving at an angle, and neither player has lined up his opponent, the contact is legal. Players should attempt to keep their heads up when making contact with their opponents whenever possible.
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. Previously, players could block low on or inside the tight end during these plays.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There will also be points of emphasis on several existing rules this season (although the rules themselves have not changed):
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.