A new rule is about to take professional football back to its glory days—of the 1940s.
The so-called "Brady Rule" prohibits defensive players who are on the ground from "lunging" at a quarterback's legs.
The rule was created to prevent the kind of injury that sidelined Patriot QB Tom Brady for the entire 2008 season. A similar hit knocked the Bengals' Carson Palmer out of a playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2006.
While the intent of the rule is to protect quarterbacks—the league's most visible and precious commodity—its implementation could lead to changes that will take the National Football League back to the "three yards and a cloud of dust" game that prevailed in the 1940s.
Recognizing the potential to penalize defenses, offensive linemen, tight ends, and running backs are going to "cut" opposing defenders as often as possible. The increased use of the cut block will result in more injuries to defensive players—especially on the defensive line.
A few years from now, the NFL will act to protect the players by banning the cut block entirely. And that's when things will get interesting.
Deprived of the ability to cut block, running backs will no longer be able to effectively handle blitz pickups. Teams will have to abandon four and five receiver sets and go to two and three tight ends to handle blitz pressure. Down-field throws will diminish as a result.
Since most outside runs depend on cut blocking to neutralize back side pursuit, teams will focus more on the power running game—the between the tackles and "student body right" type of offense popularized by Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers.
This type of running game requires bigger, stronger, more physical offensive linemen. The smaller, lighter, agile offensive linemen (think the Denver Broncos of the late 90s) will be gone from the game.
No spread offense.
Fewer down-field throws.
Big, brutish linemen blocking for a big runner smashing between the tackles.
Lombardi would love it.
That's where we're headed. And all because of one silly rule.