Cleveland Browns running back Trent Richardson.
Since September of 2010, the NFL has accounted for 55 percent of the nation's most watched television programs. That statistic may not carry much shock value to the average fan, but it's a testament to just how popular the game has become to fans from all different walks of life throughout the last decade. The NFL, now more than ever before, is much more than a lucrative business or sports league; it's a powerful brand name that generates economic growth in a multitude of areas.
However, the NFL that we will watch in 2013 is going to look drastically different than it did even just a few seasons ago. In order to preserve its brand, the league has implemented a variety of new rules in an effort to promote a safer playing environment. As the list of newly implemented rules and regulations continues to grow, they will undoubtedly begin having a more noticeable effect on the games being played.
For some players, particularly those with a more physical style of play, the new rule changes could potentially wreak havoc on their respective teams. It's going to take years for the changes to take effect, as it's unlikely that players who have been taught from a young age to inflict as much pain as possible on their opponents have the ability to simply edit that function out of their instinctual in-game habits.
Regardless, let's take a look at several players (or teams) who could attract penalties and potential fines for violating the rule changes put in place by the NFL Competition Committee this offseason.
Ahmad Bradshaw and Ray Rice, along with nearly every other undersized running back in the NFL, are going to have a difficult time adjusting to the "crown of the helmet" rule, which states that a ball-carrier outside the tackle box can not initiate contact with a defender with the crown of his helmet.
Obviously, the rule is intended to reduce concussions among current players, but it adds a distinct disadvantage for players that rely on playing with a low center of gravity in order to physically compete with defenders of a much more imposing stature.
For example, the video above shows the 5'10' and 214-pound Bradshaw obliterating the 6'2" and 214-pound Brodney Pool. The players weigh exactly the same, but Bradshaw's ability to lower his helmet and gain leverage allows him to explode through Pool and into the end zone.
Plays such as the one above are likely going to be called for personal fouls in 2013. Bradshaw blatantly utilizes the crown of his helmet as a method to break the tackle.
Bradshaw and Rice are both known for being physical runners, which is a remarkable feat given their size. However, a large portion of their physicality stems from the ability to stay low and play with proper leverage. It's going to be extremely difficult for each player to run with a low center of gravity and engage defenders without lowering the helmet.
The elimination of the "tuck rule" seems insignificant in the grand scheme of things, as the change has been partially overlooked due to the "crown of the helmet" rule that ignited a media fiasco for the duration of the last week. However, for quarterbacks that have limited mobility outside the pocket, the elimination of the tuck rule could throw a minor wrench in how a pocket-passer goes through his progression immediately after the snap.
For the modern day NFL quarterback, mobility can be a lethal weapon, but it's by no means a requirement for running a successful offensive scheme. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, who are arguably two of the slowest quarterbacks in the league, are shoe-in Hall of Famers with a combined four Super Bowl Rings, six Most Valuable Player awards and 20 Pro Bowl appearances. However, without the tuck rule, players who spend the majority of their time in the pocket are vulnerable to fumbling the football on more occasions.
In past years, quarterbacks have been able to pump fake the football and tuck it back into a ready throwing position in an attempt to look off safeties and linebackers in zone coverage. Although pump faking exposed the football, the tuck rule provided safety in that if the ball was knocked out while being tucked back into the body, the play would be ruled an incomplete pass.
The new rule states that if the ball is stripped during the process of tucking the ball, the play will be ruled a fumble. This may result in quarterbacks pump faking less inside the pocket, which will enable players in zone coverage to maintain their ground for longer. As a result, we may see a slight increase in coverage sacks and interceptions next season.
The elimination of the tuck rule will have an extremely minor, if any effect on the 2013 season. However, as we learned on Jan. 19, 2002, it may just become the difference between a team winning and losing a monumentally important matchup.
Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte.
Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte and Cleveland Browns running back Trent Richardson are both athletic enough to avoid using the crown of their helmets as weapons against their opponent. Each is an extremely physical runner that likely grew up using the crown as a method of breaking tackles, so it's not likely they will be able to break that habit instantaneously.
However, in the NFL, reputation can at times influence officiating. Given that Forte and Richardson are known as two of the most physical running backs in the NFL, referees are going to be keying on each of their touches and ensuring that neither player lowers his head in a dangerous fashion.
The "crown rule" has received overwhelmingly negative feedback from players, including Forte who made his gripes very public via Twitter earlier this week and even alluded to creating his own "lowering the boom" fund. Richardson was even willing to take on all the blame for the new rule's implementation.
Regardless of the current players' feelings about the new rule, it's not going anywhere anytime soon. Flags will be thrown, fines will be handed out and fans will continue to watch the on-field product diminish in order to preserve the health of the players. The faster each player, coach and fan accepts these changes and adjusts his playing style to suit them, the more productive the situation will be for all parties involved.
The New York Giants are not the only team that overloads the one side of the defensive line during field goal attempts. In fact, it's become a fairly regular practice in the NFL throughout the years. However, now that the NFL Competition Committee has disallowed teams to line a majority of their players on one side of the line of scrimmage, teams are going to have to find more innovative ways to block field goals.
Which brings us back to the Giants, who in 2011 used this strategy to block Dallas Cowboys kicker Dan Baily's Week 11 field goal attempt that would have sent a crucial NFC East matchup into overtime.
On the play, the Giants stacked six players on the left side of the line and five on the right, leaving a considerable gap in the middle. The Cowboys accounted for the overload by moving an extra offensive lineman over to the right in order to stop the rush. However, all that did was provide Jason Pierre-Paul a one-on-one opportunity to beat his man to the middle of the field and into Baily's kick. Because of the block, the Giants won a game that was essential for them to make the playoffs and go on their improbable Super Bowl run.
Starting in 2013, without the overloaded defensive lines against field goal attempts, teams are going to have to get extremely creative if they want to block a kick. As the number of suitable strategies decreases, the likelihood that blocking field goals becomes a practically extinct aspect of football increases dramatically.