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NFL rule tweaks and trends you need to know because the 2022 season begins


The NFL took it easy on the rulebook this offseason after several years of heavy fidgeting with the sport. We will interpret that in a variety of ways, and competition committee chairman Wealthy McKay took essentially the most positive view.

“The sport,” he said, “is in a extremely good place.”

Just one significant rule alteration occurred, and it applies simply to the postseason. Each team can be guaranteed a possession if a playoff game goes to additional time, a response to the Kansas City Chiefs’ winning touchdown on the opening drive of additional time last season to win a 42-36 divisional-round game over the Buffalo Bills. Otherwise, owners decided to not adopt the type of weighty rule changes that would loom in the longer term, from sky judges to a punt redesign to an alternative choice to the kickoff. Those debates could surface in the approaching years.

Within the meantime, nonetheless, the competition committee tweaked the interpretations of several rules in ways which might be more likely to impact the 2022 season. What follows are five adjustments you would possibly notice.

Illegal contact clarified

NFL Illegal Contact Penalties, 2017-2021

12 monthsIllegal Contact Calls
Source: NFL data
* 17 games

Historically, the illegal contact foul has been one in every of the NFL’s most reliable tools for ensuring the expansion of the passing game. Put simply, it prohibits certain contact by defenders against receivers and other pass-catchers while the quarterback still has the ball within the pocket.

Even with the addition of a seventeenth game for all teams, the variety of illegal contact flags dropped noticeably last season, from a median of 97 per season from 2001 to 2020 right down to 36 in 2021. That drop coincided with a 13% decrease in touchdown passes per game from 2020, in addition to the bottom average of yards per attempt (7.1) in 4 seasons.

In consequence, the competition committee asked officials to pay closer attention to contact that falls under illegal contact. Penalties soared in the primary week of the preseason, with a complete of 15 flags for illegal contact in 16 games. But after further communication from the league office, there have been a complete of eight in Weeks 2 and three combined — suggesting there can be a bump in regular-season flags but not a flood as some feared.

Roughing the passer clarified

The NFL will all the time value and protect quarterbacks, however the competition committee took steps throughout the offseason that would reduce the variety of flags for roughing the passer.

There have been 153 such penalties in 2021, a 12% rise per game from 2020. That uptick in itself would not necessarily trouble NFL decision-makers, given the league-wide priority on quarterback play. But as anyone who watched games last season knows, a few of those flags got here for mild and inadvertent hits to the helmet that fell far below the rulebook standard of “forcible” contact.

For as much because the league desires to protect quarterbacks, it doesn’t want games turning on 15-yard penalties against players whose fingers may need grazed the passer’s helmet en path to a legal sack. In consequence, officials have been asked to recalibrate their approach to make sure — as best they will in real time — that contact was forcible before throwing a flag. That request could lead on to fewer roughing the passer flags than in 2021, and a return to historical norms.

Additional time modified — but just within the playoffs

The additional time format for regular-season games stays unchanged — a team can win if it scores a touchdown (but not a field goal) on its opening possession without its opponent getting the ball. Persuaded that longer additional time games are usually not all the time higher, owners decided to use the brand new format only to a very powerful contests.

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Within the playoffs, the rule states simply: “Each teams should have the chance to own the ball at the very least once throughout the extra period.” That tweak prevents a team from winning on the opening possession, even when it scores a touchdown, and reduces the advantage a team gets from winning the additional time coin toss.

If the sport is tied after each team has one possession, the following rating wins.

There may be one exception. If the team kicking off to start out a postseason additional time period scores a security on the receiving team’s opening possession, it might win the sport. The overwhelming majority of NFL games can be unaffected by this variation. There have been 24 playoff additional time games since 2001, a median of a little bit a couple of per season.

Kickoff tweak made everlasting

Recovering onside kicks became nearly not possible after the NFL overhauled its kickoff in 2018, prompting calls for relatively radical changes to take care of the drama of fourth-quarter comebacks.

Owners rejected a lot of the proposals, including one that might have given scoring teams the choice to interchange the following kickoff with one offensive play. In the event that they gained 15 yards or more, they’d maintain possession. As an alternative, owners endorsed a more subtle change that limited the variety of players that the returning team could place inside 15 yards of the restraining line.

The rule change took effect on an experimental basis in 2021, and it contributed to a return to historical norms. The recovery rate in 2021 was 16.1%, up from 4.4% in 2020. Owners made the tweak everlasting in March.

‘Popup’ kickoffs make gains

The 2018 kickoff changes had a transparent intent: Incentivize teams to kick the ball deep for a touchback, thereby reducing the probabilities for injury-causing collisions. The first enticement was moving the post-touchback line of scrimmage from the 20-yard line to the 25.

Over time, nonetheless, teams have grown less enthusiastic about automatic touchbacks. Now, they’re increasingly in search of ways to pin opponents contained in the 25-yard line by kicking shorter and better “popups,” a trend that could be expected to proceed in 2022.

In keeping with NFL data, 27.7% of kickoffs fell in need of the top zone last season. The speed was 23.4% in 2020. The touchback rate dropped to 57.6%, the primary time it has been under 60% because the 2018 rule change, and coaches are actually openly talking about avoiding touchbacks.

As Minnesota Vikings special teams coordinator Matt Daniels said this summer, three of the 4 almost certainly outcomes of a kickoff return are favorable to the kicking team. Either the returner can be tackled contained in the 25, he’ll fumble or his team can be penalized while blocking. (The unfavorable final result, after all, is a return beyond the 25.)

“The percentages [tell you to] put that thing in play,” Daniels said. “There’s numerous aspects that go into it … but when we’re just talking black and white, I say put that ball in play.”

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