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Rule Changes Focus On Player Safety

The NFL's ownership groups met in Phoenix this week, and on Wednesday passed several new rule changes which will go into effect this season.

Perhaps the biggest rule change will prevent ball carriers from initiating contact using the crown of the helmet. Under the new rule, doing so will result in a 15-yard penalty. Though the proposal was hotly disputed among current and former players, it reportedly passed 31-1, with the lone dissension coming from the Cincinnati Bengals. As Rams head coach and competition committee member Jeff Fisher explained, the new rule was created with safety in mind.

"The membership was really, really excited," said Fisher on Wednesday, following the vote. "(It was) one of the few times that you have heard people clap. This is a very important step in our continuing efforts to emphasize player safety. Our game is safe and has been getting safer over time.

"The key thing here is you can deliver a blow with shoulder, with face, with hairline; it is just deliberately striking with the crown (that is been outlawed)."

The second change outlaws the Tuck Rule, the infamous call that entered the national conversation during the 2001 playoff game between the Patriots and Raiders. After the rule change, if a quarterback loses control of the ball while attempting to protect it, the ball is considered a fumble. The measure reportedly passed 29-1, with the Patriots and Redskins abstaining. The Steelers were reportedly the dissenting club.

Another change was the so-called "Jim Schwartz Rule," which links timeouts and challenges. Under this new rule, teams will be charged a timeout each time they challenge a play. If the coach throws a challenge flag on a play that would ordinarily be reviewed automatically, the play will still be reviewed.

Under the old rule, illegally throwing a challenge flag would result in the play not being reviewed. Now, if a play is challenged illegally, the review is still carried out, but the team is charged a timeout. If the team has no timeouts, they are charged a 15-yard penalty, but the play will still be placed under review.

Like the Tuck Rule, this vote came on the heels of a game-changing play. During a Thanksgiving game last season, Schwartz, the Detroit Lions' head coach, threw a challenge flag on a play that resulted in a Texans touchdown. Because all scoring plays are automatically reviewed, the Lions lost the opportunity to challenge the score.

The owners also passed two additional rule changes Tuesday. The first eliminates peel-back blocks, which occur when a blocker contacts an opponent from behind or from the side, and makes contact below the waist. These blocks were previously only illegal inside the tackle box, but are now prohibited anywhere on the field. Texans linebacker Brian Cushing openly criticized the rule after being blocked by Jets lineman Matt Slauson and suffering a season-ending ACL injury as a result of such a play.

The league also approved a measure that prohibits overloading a formation when attempting to block a field goal or PAT. According to this new rule, teams can only have six or fewer players on each side of the long snapper. Failure to line up correctly will result in a 5-yard penalty. Also included is a rule that prevents players not on the line from pushing players who are on the line into opposing blockers. This will result in a 15-yard penalty.

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