PALM BEACH, Fla. – As the NFL Meetings adjourned Wednesday at The Breakers resort, Green Bay Packers president/CEO Mark Murphy and Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt – the two newbies on the NFL’s competition committee – bumped into each other in the hallway and shook hands.
“That was fun,” Murphy said of their first foray into rules changes.
“We were the two new members of the committee,” Murphy said, turning to a group of reporters. “I have a much greater appreciation, not only for what goes on within one year of the process but really over the years. There would be ideas or suggestions that I would make or others would make, and (the reply was), ‘Oh no, we tried that in ’94.’ Just the experience that people have (is important).”
Several rules changes were enacted Wednesday, with the most significant being that every turnover that occurs in an NFL game next season will be reviewed from the replay booth without coaches having to challenge the play, and the postseason overtime rule about both teams having a chance at possession will apply in the regular season.
The application of the overtime rule being used in the playoffs to the regular season just made sense, according to Murphy.
“That’s something we were in favor of in the past,” Murphy said. “It just makes sense to have the same rules in the regular season that you have in the postseason.
The change means that a regular season overtime game can only end on a team's first possession if that team scores a touchdown or the defense forces a safety. If the team that gets possession first kicks a field goal on its first possession, the opposing team also will get a possession. If it also kicks a field goal, the overtime then continues to sudden death. According to Murphy, 27 of the last 32 overtime games, including playoffs, have had more than one possession anyway.
With all turnovers now subject to review, as the league did last year with all scoring plays, Murphy said there was some concern that it would mean games would take longer. In fact, Murphy said, the hope is for just the opposite.
“The concern is, will it lengthen the game?” Murphy said. “We had the same concern last year with scoring plays. But the results showed that the reviewing all scoring plays lengthened the games by one second. So it was a very minimal increase.
“There’s actually some thought that this may decrease the average game length because almost every turnover has a commercial timeout afterwards, so it’ll be reviewed during (those). What has happened in the past, we go to a timeout, the coach has time to think about it, we come out of the timeout and then he decides to challenge. I don’t see it increasing the length of game times.”
According to ESPN Stats & Information, last season (the first with all touchdowns being reviewed), plays were reversed on 52 percent of challenges, the best rate over the last 11 seasons and 10 percent higher than in 2010.
The one rule change that was adopted by the owners that the Packers voted against was the expansion of the league rule regarding defenseless players. Hits to the head and neck are now illegal when they occur on crackback blocks. The rule change figures to make several teams, including the Packers, focus on their blocking on plays where receivers and tight ends block down after the snap. The penalty is a 15-yarder.
“I think the block will still be able to be made; it’s just the target area is from the knees up to the shoulders,” Murphy said.
Several roster-related changes were tabled until the league meetings in May in Atlanta, including expanding preseason rosters to 90; designating one player suffering a major injury before Week 2 of the season as eligible to return from injured reserve (such as Packers running back Ryan Grant in 2010); and moving the trading deadline back two weeks to after Week 8. Competition committee chairman Rich McKay said he expects all of those changes to pass at the next meeting.
"There were good ideas and suggestions, no resistance," he said. "We'll work on the language."
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