The 10 Biggest Changes to Expect from 2012 NFL Season to 2013 Season

Christopher HansenNFL AnalystJuly 19, 2013

The 10 Biggest Changes to Expect from 2012 NFL Season to 2013 Season

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    Six years ago, the NFL started regulating contact by defensive backs more strictly. The net result was that passing statistics went through the roof. Passing is still a huge part of the game because rule changes in the name of player safety have often benefited the passing game.

    In 2008, the Wildcat offense took the league by storm. Within two years, there wasn’t a team in the league that was consistently running the Wildcat.

    There are always a few big changes from one NFL season to the next, be it rules or formations personnel or surprise teams.

    While some changes leave a lasting impact, others prove to be temporary. Trends from last season may or may not carry over into 2013, and new trends will certainly emerge.

    The 10 biggest changes to expect in 2013 compared to last season are as follows, in no particular order.

Defenses Will Stop the Read-Option

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    Last season we saw how effective the read-option could be when deployed by quarterbacks like Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick. The read-option is just like any other offensive trend, and defenses will eventually learn how to stop it.

    The rise and effectiveness of the read-option means defensive coordinators will spend considerable time this offseason learning how to defend it. Once defenses learn how to defend the read-option, either the quarterback will take more hits or it won’t be as effective.

    According to Clark Judge of CBS Sports, defensive-minded coaches were in unanimous agreement that the read-option is not here to stay. We aren’t talking about just any coaches either; Judge quoted respected defensive minds like Mike Tomlin, Mike Zimmer, Chuck Pagano and Marvin Lewis.

    Greg Cosell of NFL Films also tweeted that many at the NFL combine told him defensive coaches don’t feel the read-option will be a big issue going forward. Cosell also spoke with Pagano, who reinforced the thought.

Quarterbacks Will Run Less Frequently

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    The read-option may not immediately disappear, but offensive coordinators will almost definitely abandon its usage once defenses prove they can stop it. The injury to Robert Griffin III may also have a cooling effect on teams that would have otherwise considered putting their quarterbacks in harm’s way.

    As a result, quarterbacks are going to run a lot less in 2013 than they did last year. Quarterbacks like Griffin, Wilson, Cam Newton and Kaepernick will have to continue their development as passers and start to use their legs as a last resort.

    Teams that ran the read-option were so successful partially because their quarterbacks complemented their rushing ability with excellent passing ability. Three quarterbacks had 90-plus rushing attempts and 3,000-plus passing yards in 2012 for the first time in NFL history. This doesn’t even include Kaepernick, because he only started the last seven games.

    In total, only seven quarterbacks have ever thrown for 3,000-plus yards and rushed 90-plus times, and only two have done so multiple times in their careers—Randall Cunningham and Newton.

    Part of the reason these quarterbacks haven’t been able to replicate their success is an inability to stay healthy. Guys like Daunte Culpepper and Cunningham would have accomplished the feat more often if not for injuries.

    Quarterbacks who are a threat to run will continue to be a part of the game, but don’t expect 2012-like rushing statistics from them in 2013.

Rushing Efficiency Will Decline

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    Teams are passing more than ever, but they are also rushing with increasing effectiveness. So why will those numbers be down in 2013? There are actually three reasons.

    One reason is the new crown-of-the-helmet rule that will nullify big plays in the open field. Even if the penalty is not called with great frequency, it may have a cooling effect on the running game because running backs will juke more in the open field as opposed to trying to run through contact.

    The second is the new rule against peel-back blocks. This rule was designed to make certain types of blindside blocks illegal. Unfortunately, these are very common blocks on big run plays as the back-side offensive linemen take out second-level defenders.

    The rule basically makes blocks below the waist and from the side illegal unless the offensive player approaches the defensive player from the front and initiates contact on the front of the opponent’s body. It’s going to be a pretty tough penalty to officiate.

    Like the crown-of-the-helmet rule, this rule is probably going to be called more in the first year than it will in the future. It’ll take teams some time to adjust, and the net result will be a less effective ground game.

    Lastly, the ground game will not be as effective is because of the read-option. Running backs playing for teams that used the read-option were very effective in 2013, not to mention the quarterbacks were also running the ball well.

    As the previous slides mentioned, defenses are going to be better at stopping the read-option and quarterbacks are probably not going to rush with as much frequency. These factors will only aid in the drop in the effectiveness of the running game.

Rookie Quarterbacks Will Struggle

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    Last year was the year of the rookie quarterback. Griffin, Wilson, Andrew Luck, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden, Nick Foles, Kirk Cousins and Ryan Lindley all started games in 2013. Luck, Griffin and Wilson were instant stars, and only Weeden and Lindley struggled significantly.

    While no one is expecting the 2013 crop of rookie quarterbacks to be as good as last year's, we’ve become so accustomed to rookie quarterbacks playing immediately that they’re probably going to get thrust into action before they are ready.

    Five quarterbacks were immediate starters last year, and only EJ Manuel and Geno Smith have a chance this year. Tyler Wilson, Mike Glennon, Matt Barkley and Ryan Nassib will likely enter the season as No. 2 quarterbacks and would be an injury or an ineffective starter away from playing time.

    Unlike last season, when 75 percent of the quarterbacks didn’t look out of place, only one or two quarterbacks from this year’s class will look like they belong when they get their opportunity.

Field-Goal Conversion Percentages Will Increase

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    A new NFL rule prohibits any player from lining up over the center on a place kick, and it prevents teams from overloading one side of the kick formation with more than six players. It also disallows defensive players from pushing other defensive players into offensive linemen.

    As a result of this rule change, it’s going to be a lot harder for NFL teams to block or even affect place kicks. Field-goal conversion percentages should skyrocket.

    Last year, teams made 83.9 percent of their field goals. Field-goal percentages appear to be on the uptick overall, so taking the vast majority of blocks and near-blocks out of the equation should make it even easier for kickers.

The Pistol Formation Will Be More Widely Used

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    Unlike the read-option, the pistol formation will gain even wider usage across the league. Many teams will start to use the pistol in the place of the shotgun in all but the most obvious passing situations.

    One of the reasons the pistol may find its way into most teams' playbooks is its flexibility. Teams can implement nearly their entire playbook out of the pistol regardless of personnel, including power runs, zone runs and the entire passing game.

    “I think it’s the key to everything,” said Kyle Shanahan, offensive coordinator for the Washington Redskins, to CSN Washington in June.

    You can bet if Shanahan believes it, there are a probably at least a dozen or more other offensive coordinators thinking the same thing.

    NFL Films guru Greg Cosell also tweeted in February that he felt the pistol will be here to stay. For that to happen, it will need to move out of the "niche formation" category and into common usage. That shouldn’t be an issue in a league known for copying successful ideas.

The Single-Season Sacks Record Will Fall

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    Just about every year, Michael Strahan’s single-season record of 22.5 sacks is threatened, but someone will finally break it in 2013. Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen was a sack short of topping it in 2011, and Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt was 2.5 sacks shy in 2012.

    Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware has also come close a few times, and San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith and Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller have also been within striking distance.

    Records were made to be broken, and it’s only a matter of time before this one falls. NFL teams are passing more than ever before, giving pass-rushers many more opportunities to get to the quarterback.

Geno Smith Will Replace Mark Sanchez

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    The writing is on the wall for quarterback Mark Sanchez. If his contract weren’t so restrictive, he’d already be competing for a backup job somewhere.  

    Instead, the New York Jets will have a quarterback competition. It doesn’t really matter if rookie Geno Smith wins the job during training camp, because we all know that at some point this season, he is going to be the starting quarterback of the New York Jets.

    We don’t know when it’s going to happen, but it’s inevitable. The instant Sanchez falters, the fans will be chanting for Smith. It has the makings of an ugly scenario if the coaches try to stick with Sanchez too long.

    In-season quarterback changes are almost always a big deal, but a change from a quarterback with a $12.9 million cap hit (Sanchez) to a second-round pick (Smith) is particularly notable.

The Cleveland Browns Will Not Be Terrible

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    The Cleveland Browns have had two winning seasons in the past 14 years, and they have lost at least 11 games in each of the past five seasons. The long-suffering fans in Cleveland haven’t done anything to deserve such ineptitude, so it’s tough to root against them.

    Although it’s difficult to say just how things will go for the Browns in 2013, they will not be as terrible as they have been for the past several seasons. With the hiring of Rob Chudzinski as head coach, Norv Turner as offensive coordinator and Ray Horton as defensive coordinator, the Browns have a very nice coaching staff to develop their flock of young talent.

    The Browns also made solid offseason additions like versatile defensive lineman Desmond Bryant and pass-rusher Paul Kruger. The Browns followed that up by drafting talented pass-rusher Barkevious Mingo in the first round of the draft.

    The only blemish on the offseason was the legal trouble of owner Jimmy Haslam’s company, Pilot Flying J, but that too may be a thing of the past. According to ESPN, Pilot Flying J has reached a settlement agreement with some of the trucking companies they allegedly defrauded.

Security at NFL Stadiums Will Be Very Tight

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    Last season, the NFL started requiring the use of metal detectors. This year, the NFL will be implementing a new bag policy to ensure the safety of fans.

    Allowed bags include a small clutch purses no larger than 4.5-by-6.5 inches and either a clear plastic, vinyl or PVC bag no larger than 12-by-6-by-12 inches or one-gallon clear plastic freezer bags.

    Medically necessary bags are an exception but must be inspected a specific gate. Diaper bags are prohibited unless they are transferred to an approved clear plastic bag.

    Prohibited items include, but are not limited to: purses larger than a clutch bag, coolers, briefcases, backpacks, fanny packs, cinch bags, seat cushions, luggage of any kind, computer bags and camera bags or any bag larger than the permissible size.

    At the same time the NFL is attempting to enhance the fan experience at stadiums and get people to attend games more regularly, they are making an unfriendly bag policy—especially for fans with children.

    If ticket prices weren’t enough of a deterrent to keep families home, they now have to make sure everything is in an NFL-approved bag. Is a clear plastic bag with no pockets enough to fit everything necessary to bring a small child to an NFL game, like a change (or two) of clothes, diapers, food, bottles (with ice packs) and entertainment?

    The children are also allowed a bag, but that’s not much help. Talk about a nightmare, especially if the weather isn’t ideal.

    Before the new bag policy, a dad could bring two young children, each carrying their own backpack. After the new bag policy, a dad with two young children will probably need carry two (or three) clear plastic tote bags costing $10-12 each.

    Tight security also sends the message that NFL games are a potentially dangerous environment for children. The rules obviously don’t apply outside of the stadium in packed parking lots, so it’s really a false sense of security.

    Seat cushions have also been banned, even though they are part of the stadium experience for some fans. Older fans or any fans in extreme weather areas who want to provide a buffer between their rear end and a frozen seat can’t be happy with the new policy.

    Blankets are still allowed, so that would be the obvious alternative to seat cushion. However, I’d imagine fans would prefer to use the blanket they can carry into the stadium like a blanket—not a seat cushion.

    This is a definitely a big change, so be prepared. Rant over.