Rules Changes and the Steelers


Every year, the NFL competition committee proposes changes to the rules of the game. This year’s proposals may have a dramatic effect on the Black and Gold.

Courtesy Steelers N’At

If you are reading this article, you know full well the struggles the Steelers have had in special teams, particularly kick coverage, over the past few years. Last year seemed to be better. In 2009, they were pitiful. Then again, a lot of things about the 2009 season were pitiful.

One of the proposed rules changes for the next NFL season (whenever that may be) involves the kicking game. Specifically, the proposal is to move kick-offs to the 35-yard-line.  This reverses a change that was made in 1994 to move kick-offs to the 30-yard-line. Also, the spot of a touch-back would be the 25-yard-line, instead of the 20. This would be on the kick-offs only. Punt touch-backs would still go to the 20-yard-line.The other parts of this change would be to limit players on the kicking team to line up no more than 5 yards behind the ball, and to eliminate wedge blocking completely. Before the 2010 season, wedge blocking was reduced so that only two players could do it.

These changes are being proposed due to the numbers of injuries being sustained on kick-offs, when players run full speed at each other.

Whether the changes will have the desired effect or not, one side-effect will be the reduction of game-changing plays on kick-offs. We will see a rise in touch-backs, which would benefit the Steelers. Whether they keep Shaun Suisham or they find another kicker in the draft or free-agency, the Steelers have not had the benefit of a strong-legged kick-off man in recent history. During the regular season last year, they were tied for 22nd in touch-backs with 7 on 87 kick-offs (8%). The Ravens led the league in touch-backs with 40 on 79 kick-offs (51%). This rules change would level that playing field in the Steelers’ favor.

Plus, more touchbacks means that the Steelers will not have to put so much effort into finding a great, or even consistently good, return man. Heck, I could drop back into the end zone, catch the ball, and take a knee.

Of course, this might lead to a change in kicking strategy where teams start “pooching” the ball, trying to get it to drop within the 20-yard-line where they would try to make a play to keep the ball short of the 25. Let’s not over-think it, though. This is a good change for the Steelers because it helps negate a weakness in the team.

The second change concerns replay. The proposal is to make any scoring play eligible for booth review and to reduce the number of challenges  for coaches from 2 with the chance to earn a third to a static 2 for the game.

I like this change. I like that the NFL wants to take the officiating out of the coaches’ hands. Coach Tomlin has enough going on without having to worry about whether or not he should challenge a scoring play. Let the men who are paid to make that call make it. Plus, there was always the inequity of trying to make a challenge in an opponent’s stadium, where you are very unlikely to see a replay prior to throwing the challange flag. I never liked that.

The argument that it might lengthen the game is ludicrous and silly given the amount of time that is wasted during a football game to begin with. If we are worried about the length of games, how about we cut some of the unnecessary commercial breaks? We all know that “TV timeouts” happen. Let’s get rid of some of them. If NBC or FOX don’t like it, I’m sure CBS and ABC will be more than happy to broadcast those games. I want the calls to be right, or at least at close to right as we can get them. Why can’t there be a “Review Official” in the press box with access to all the camera angles available? Let this man make the review instead of the referee having to walk all the way over to the booth, review the film, walk all the way back out to the field and announce the call. Heck, he could be reviewing every play as it happens and could notify the referee via some device that he is reviewing a call. This isn’t astrophysics.

The last proposed change has to do with helmet-to-helmet hits, a sore subject for the Steelers to say the least. Under the new rule, players would be more likely to be suspended for delivering what the NFL has termed “dangerous hits.”

The thinking is that players such as James Harrison don’t care about money and will only change their style of play when the punishment for a dangerous hit effects their team. A suspension of the Silverback would certainly effect the Steelers.

This is a very fine line the NFL is trying to walk, in my opinion. The game is brutal and physical by its very nature. You cannot remove all the violence from football, no matter how hard you try. And if you did, would the game be as much fun to watch?

That being said, I support trying to eliminate the hits that are beyond the pale of trying to make a football play. Hitting to dislodge the ball is one thing. Hitting to injure should not be supported. The problem is that it is impossible to know a player’s intentions. None of us wants to believe that a lineman rolls onto a quarterback’s leg with the intention of injuring him, but we don’t know. The NFL is erring on the side of caution, and you have to respect that, even if you don’t agree with it.

I don’t like the idea of Harrison having to change his style because I happen to like the intimidation he creates, but I don’t like seeing guys woozy and stumbling off the field, and missing time, when they get hammered in the head, either. Remember Heath Miller in the second game against the Ravens last year? That wasn’t even called a penalty on the field. He missed the rest of that game and two more!

Obviously, these changes are not the most important thing going on in the NFL right now, but they could have a dramatic effect on the Mighty Black and Gold when they next take the field.

What are your thoughts, fellow Citizens?