Look for fewer TD passes this season
Posted Jul. 08 at 02:40 AM
I think the NFL made a mistake when it altered its rule on sideline receptions. By allowing defensive backs to push receivers out of bounds to prevent catches, I think there will be fewer TD passes, more field goals and less success in two-minute drills. And I don’t think the rule will make things easier for officials.
Visualize a football field, with the 6-foot white border on the sidelines. What the new rule does, in essence, is add an area of almost equivalent size on the inside of the field. That’s now a dangerous area for the offense; throw it there and the defensive back now has the added weapon of being able to shove a leaping or off-balance receiver out of bounds before he can get both feet inbounds. I believe some defensive backs will use that tool to prevent touchdowns and kill drive-preserving catches on the sidelines.
The biggest impact should be on pass plays around the goal line. With this new rule, the most valuable chunks of that piece of real estate are compromised – the 1-2 yard strips along the sidelines and at the back of the end zone. With blockers and pass rushers clogging the middle of the field, quarterbacks tend to want to throw passes to the sidelines and the back of the end zone.
And that prime real estate makes up a surprisingly large portion of the end zone. An end zone is only 533 square yards large (10 yards by 160 feet). Of that area, 13 percent is within 1 yard of being out of bounds; 26 percent is within 2 yards of being out of bounds. So essentially a quarter of the end zone is affected, and it’s the quarter that NFL offenses generally are trying to target on pass plays.
Now, on every fade route or high throw that’s anywhere close to out of bounds, defensive backs will have the option to not try even go in the air and try to play the ball. They may instead stay low and try to instead concentrate on making sure the receiver doesn’t get down inbounds – either get hold of a leg and try to hold it in the air or simply try to drive the entire receiver out of bounds.
How many plays will this affect? I believe it will affect more than people are expecting. Of the 720 TD passes that were thrown last year, 331 – damn near half – came from 10 yards and in. Of Tom Brady’s 56 TDs (including the playoffs), over half (29) came from inside 10 yards.
And the new rule should result in teams failing to even get in the red zone more often as well. Late in halves of games, when time is running out, teams are often forced to throw the ball to sidelines to stop the clock.
I believe that you’ll see the NFL average for TD passes drop by 5-10 percent. With teams having a lot of success with the pass last year anyway, close to a 10 percent drop is my forecast – almost 2 TD passes per team over the season, on average. A lot of those drives will instead end with chip-shot field goals (so we may see even more success for kickers, who keep challenging accuracy and field goal records every year anyway).
The purpose of this rule is to make things easier on the officials, but I don’t see that happening. As the rule read in the past, defensive backs weren’t trying to push receivers out of a bounds, so you’d see only a handful of these controversial plays per season. With the new rule, there will be far more plays with receivers traveling at high speed out of bounds, with the official trying to determine whether the feet touched and whether control of the ball was maintained as the body hit the ground. Those can be difficult calls for officials, so I expect their jobs will actually be harder this season.
The new rule may result in a couple of injuries as well. I can see defensive backs trying to hold a receiver’s single leg in the air, trying to stop that second foot from touching in bounds, resulting in additional muscle pulls. And more players will be driven out of bounds, where they can collide with assistant coaches, benches, photographers and other off-field equipment.
I don’t think the NFL thought this one out carefully. It will prove to be a mistake, in my opinion.
Posted by Jacob Wilson | Jul. 08 at 05:03 AM
There's no question that you're correct, sir. Logically, there's no reason for defensive coaches NOT to emphasize the "sideline shove" as a new technique for killing drives. More unfortunately, the situations in which this technique would be most justified would be those 2-minute drills with the clock winding down. The potential for dramatic, come-from-behind victories (the most memorable, historic moments in the sport), has been pointlessly diminished. My question is, how can the NFL, which has traditionally been the pro-sports leader in fan-friendly innovation, fail to recognize the obvious logic of your conclusions? Since when does the NFL put its officiating crew's preferences above the entertainment of its paying fans? If the NFL wants to make officials' jobs "easier", how about ending the silliness of requiring unquestionable "control" of the ball to validate a reception. Instead, let a catch be a catch, even if the ball isn't perfectly still, and reward the receiver for keeping the ball in contact with his body. That would lead to more offense, and fewer replay stoppages, with officials no longer required to these relatively unscientific, objective determinations.
Posted by Paul Owers | Jul. 08 at 05:51 AM
I agree that this is a rule that could potentially have a major impact on games and fantasy leagues. Ian, get ready now for the inevitable Mailbag questions from disgruntled readers wondering what happened to their alleged stud QB.
Posted by skip butz | Jul. 08 at 09:10 AM
Better to up scoring slightly and make calls easier by allowing receivers to get just one foot in.
Posted by Jason Obusek | Jul. 08 at 08:59 PM
I think you guys are overreacting to this rule change. For one, a defender cannot simply shove the receiver out of bounds at any time otherwise it will be pass interference just like it has always been. For a defender to do what has been mentioned a certain timing will be needed in order to make the play and I don't see how a player going full speed is going to be able to control himself by just stopping and waiting (for the possibility of a fade pattern) then shoving the receiver out of bounds. Usually if the defender is beaten on the play he isn't going to have time to make any logical decision other than throw his hands up and lose the battle which has usually been the case. Your acting like every touchdown pass is thrown to a guy in the back of the endzone who's jumping up to catch it and trying to get his toes down. This rule change is not going to be a big deal, simply run the fade pattern a little farther from the side of the endzone. And sideline passes would work the same way. A defender cannot just shove a receiver out unless the ball is already there and I don't recall there being numerous leaping sideline catches every game. Offenses will adjust. Jesus, how often do you see this rule even come into play? Regardless, the rule was ridiculous...at least now they are giving the defender some way to defend.
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