NFL to review rules, safety issues

INDIANAPOLIS — The next time Jim Schwartz or any other NFL coach throws a challenge flag on a scoring play, he might get a penalty.

Starting next season, he should get a replay review, too.

NFL executive vice president of football operations Ray Anderson emerged from Wednesday’s competition committee meeting in Indianapolis and told The Associated Press the most important thing is getting the call right.

“The bottom line is that we will get resolution on that play where we will get it right, where the play on the field is correctly administered,” Anderson said.

The loophole was exposed on the Lions’ Thanksgiving Day game when Schwartz threw the challenge flag on an 81-yard touchdown run by Houston’s Justin Forsett.

Replays clearly showed Forsett’s knee and elbow touched the turf when he was hit by Lions defenders. But because all scoring plays are automatically reviewed, Schwartz was assessed a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and it negated the review.

In the aftermath of that game, Anderson issued a statement that said negating the review might be “too harsh.”

Though no formal proposal is yet on the table, Anderson and others expect the rule to be modified before next season.

“I think we need to clean up the situations about what is reviewed, with Detroit and I think it was the Green Bay-Minnesota game,” Giants owner John Mara said, referring to the play that coach Mike McCarthy threw the flag and a player picked it up. “I think we’ll address that. I’m not sure what the language will look like yet.”

That’s not the only topic on the committee’s discussion list this week.

Player safety is yet again at the forefront.

The biggest potential change may be the way helmets are used in the future.

Currently, players can be penalized for hitting defenseless receivers and hitting players above the neck with the crown of the helmet.

One possibility is expanding the rule to make it illegal to target any player on the field and any body part with the top of the helmet.

If the yet-to-be drawn up proposal were adopted, the new rule would be expanded to cover running backs or receivers dipping their heads and using the top of the helmet to drive the pile backward.

Anderson said the potential change would benefit the health of both players and there is initial support on the committee to do that.

“When we started playing football we were taught to keep our head up and see where we hit. It’s kind of, for some reason, evolved in a different way now and so we’re really looking hard at that,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said.

“We’ve got big, fast, strong guys on great fields now and they just move, run faster and do things at a better pace. We have to continue to look at that. So those are the important things moving forward.”

The challenge, as Mara pointed out, is finding the right language to institute that kind of rule.

Anderson and Mara both said the injury numbers from last season showed the league is making progress in reducing concussions, an issue they will continue to monitor and amend in the future. Neither cited the official statistics.

Another concern is the defensive alignments on extra points and field goals.

Mara said in recent years that most teams have been putting two or three defensive players on the line of scrimmage and then putting two or three more behind them so they can push the linemen into the backfield in hopes of blocking a low kick. The committee may consider making that illegal.

The league also plans to take a look at changing the rules on illegal blocks, which could help avoid the low, rolling block that knocked Texans linebacker Brian Cushing out for the season with a torn ligament in his left knee.

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