Recently NFL referees have been a fixture at training camps throughout the league. Their main purpose is to make sure coaches and players fully understand some new rule changes being implemented for the 2014-2015 season.
In particular this year, defensive backs will not be allowed to make contact with a receiver after 5 yards if the quarterback is in the pocket.
“Defenders cannot initiate contact with eligible receivers more than five yards from the line of scrimmage when the quarterback is in the pocket with the ball. The covering official will recognize the contact, and then look back to the quarterback. If he is in the pocket with the ball or in the process of releasing it, it will be a foul for illegal contact.”(1)
For the Philadelphia Eagles this will be an interesting rule-change in two, semi-obvious ways:
1. The Eagles appear to have adopted the philosophy of the Seattle Seahawks in that they brought in big, physical defensive backs as of late (ex. Nolan Caroll II, Cary Williams, Malcolm Jenkins–basically all of their defensive backs are 5’11” or taller and around 200 lbs or more). This new rule change appears to devalue the physicality that such players bring to the table. A defensive back with height would still be an asset to prevent taller receivers from snatching the ball away, but a speedy defender who can buzz around a receiver without making contact will be all the rage. Offensive coordinators will have a hay day(s) allowing their quarterbacks to air the ball out downfield in hopes of long completions, or drawing a flag.
2. That last sentence sheds light on how the Eagles can take advantage of this new rule. With so much speed and height on the offensive side of the ball, Chip Kelly needs to let the football fly even more than last year–which could be challenging because in 2013 both Riley Cooper and Desean Jackson were top ten in yards per reception. Nick Foles may not have a rocket-launcher for an arm, but he can definitely throw a deep ball.
This change also behooves quarterbacks to remain in the pocket for as long as possible for the prospect of drawing a defensive penalty. Is the NFL quietly working to promote the pocket-passer for every team??
Supposedly there will be an equally concerted effort for refs to call offensive interference, but by and large this rule will surely reward the teams that frequently choose to throw it long.
We should not be surprised if this upcoming season produces the grandest aerial display the NFL has ever seen.