GLENDALE, Ariz. — NFL referee Bill Vinovich was working the NFC Championship game last season between the Cardinals and Panthers. Not much was going right for the Cards early (or at any point in the game), which led to some predictable frustration and colorful language from Arizona coach Bruce Arians.
As Vinovich approached Arians on the first series, he “got an earful.” The same thing happened the first time the Cardinals were on defense, so Vinovich got Dean Blandino, the NFL’s vice president of officiating, on the headset.
“I go, ‘Dean, what’s the over-under on Fs (expletives) tonight?'” Vinovich asked. “He said ’62. Why?’
“Well,” Vinovich responded. “I’ve been over there twice and I’m at 13.”
Vinovich was in Glendale on Friday to visit his old friend, Arians, and deliver a presentation of the NFL’s new rules and points of emphasis for the 2016 season. Two rules in particular caught the attention of Cardinals coaches and players.
Following touchbacks, the ball will be placed at the 25-yard line this season to limit the number of returns after injuries rose on the play in 2015.
“I’m anxious to see if we start shooting more high, short kicks into the corners or give the ball to them on the 25,” said Arians, noting that the team will use the preseason to experiment. “It’s got to be a very returnable ball to give up the 25-yard line.”
Cardinals kicker Chandler Catanzaro said the data haven’t shown a great difference between giving teams the ball at the 20-yard line vs. the 25, but he will await instructions from the coaching staff. He said he already has the hook and slice in his bag of tools if the Cards ask him to kick to one corner or the other, although he referred to them as the “fade and the draw.”
“Maybe a little push fade and a little pull draw,” he said, laughing. “We’ll see what (special teams) coach (Amos) Jones has me do. Whatever puts our defense in the best position to succeed is what we’ll end up doing.”
Chop blocks have been eliminated from the NFL beginning this season. Prior to this change, adjacent players along the offensive line could chop a player on running plays. If it is clear that the defensive player is initiating the contact above the waist, or that the offensive player is trying to escape from the defender, then the block is still legal.
“The legal chop block vs. the illegal chop block will be hard to officiate whether or not the guy is trying to escape vs. is the defensive lineman holding him?” Arians said, noting that since the umpire has been positioned in the backfield, defensive holding has risen dramatically because the umpire can’t see it. “If a guy chops him, is he being held or is he trying to get away? It’s going to be a very hard rule to officiate in my opinion.”
Vinovich disagreed, saying that the elimination of all chop blocks will make it easier for officials.
“We pick up a lot of chop blocks,” he said. “The problem that we had is each year they got rid of one. The ones that were left were non-adjacent linemen on flow away or something like that so when we see a chop block we don’t know where those two started. Now if we see any high-low we know it’s a foul.”
Here are the rest of the rules changes for the 2016 NFL season, followed by some points of emphasis.
— Any player flagged for two specific unsportsmanlike conduct fouls in a game will be automatically ejected. The qualifying fouls include throwing a punch or kick, use of abusive or threatening language toward an opponent and any act that constitutes taunting. Players can still be disqualified for one unsportsmanlike conduct foul if deemed appropriate.
— Horse-collar tackles have been expanded to include the area “at the nameplate and above.” Players do not have to be completely pulled to the ground on a horse-collar tackle to be penalized. If their knees are buckled by the action, that is still a foul.
— Teams will be flagged for delay of game if they attempt to call a timeout when they are not allowed to.
— The 5-yard penalty for an eligible receiver illegally touching a forward pass after being out of bounds and re-establishing himself inbounds has been eliminated and replaced by making it a loss of down.
— The NFL has eliminated “multiple spots of enforcement for a double foul after a change of possession.”
— The Competition Committee adopted the 2015 proposal that the line of scrimmage for an extra point will be the 15-yard line. Two-point conversions will remain at the 2-yard line. The new rule also gives the defense the ability to score two points on returns.
— Teams no longer have to designate a player to return when they place him on injured reserve. Players still have to be on IR for at least six weeks before they can be boomeranged, however.
— Offensive and defensive play-callers are permitted to use headset communication systems whether they are on the field or in the booth.
The NFL is also highlighting some points of emphasis.
— Due to the increase in fouls and fines on lows hits on passers, the QB in the pocket in a passing posture (or outside the pocket if he re-establishes passing posture) is protected from forcible contact to the knees or below. Even if the defender is coming off a block and wrapping up with his arms, he must avoid forcible contact with his helmet, shoulder, forearms or chest. Defenders are still allowed to swipe the leg of the passer with arms only.
— Sliding runners will have maximum protection when they slide feet first and slide before defensive contact is imminent. Late slides will not be protected from hits except to the head or neck, which are still illegal.
— Defenders may not lower their head and make contact with the crown of their helmet to any part of a runner’s body outside the tackle box.
— Pre-snap movement on the line will be a point of emphasis, with particular attention paid to movement of the ball just before the snap. Adjusting the ball as the center gets set is still permitted. Once the line is set, any abrupt or significant movement of the ball is prohibited and is a false start penalty.
— Blind-side blocks on kickoffs and punt returns have been clarified. Any time a blocker is moving toward his own end line, he cannot block an opponent in the head or neck area.