Patriots Notes: Biggest NFL Rule Changes To Know Ahead Of Preseason

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FOXBORO, Mass. — NFL referee Brad Allen visited Gillette Stadium on Wednesday to give New England media members a crash course in some of the league’s recently enacted rule changes.

Here are a few takeaways from the presentation, which included an instructional video followed by a Q&A with Allen:

— Expect to see a ton of flags thrown during the preseason as players and officials alike adjust to the new rules, several of which will significantly alter the way the game is played.

Allen, who will ref Thursday’s preseason opener between the Patriots and Washington Redskins, said officials will “err on the side of throwing (flags)” until the regular season begins, with officiating crews then reviewing video of games to gain a better understanding of how the new rules should be applied.

“Up until now, we haven’t seen these plays,” Allen said. “The players haven’t experienced these plays. We’re going to have to get a library. And frankly, in preseason, we may throw and then go back and say, ‘No, this is really not what we want.’ ”

— The most talked-about change was the new helmet rule, which prohibits any player from “lowering his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent.”

Some notes on that controversial new rule, based on Allen’s explanation of it:

  • “Bracing” for contact is allowed as a ball-carrier, but “initiating” contact with the head is not. “It’s sort of like a block/charge in basketball,” Allen said. “… Simply the act of bracing does not mean I’m initiating contact.”
  • Under the rule, a player’s facemask is not considered part of his helmet. Only the forehead and up.
  • A player can be penalized for striking any part of an opponent’s body with his helmet. The rule does not only apply to helmet-to-helmet hits, though those would be covered, as well.
  • The rule applies to players on either side of the ball and at any position — “all players and every part of the field,” Allen said.
  • Players are being taught the following mantra: “Face up, pads down, knees bent.”

— The video segment covering the simplified catch rule primarily focused on the Jesse James play from last year’s Patriots-Pittsburgh Steelers game. The “survive the ground” element has been removed, with players now needing control of the ball, two feet down and the ability to make a football move.

Asked whether the new rule is, in essence, you know a catch when you see one, Allen responded: “Yes.”

— To every viewer’s chagrin, the number of pass interference and illegal contact penalties likely will increase this season. Both are among the league’s points of emphasis and “will be more strictly enforced.”

— The scope of the roughing the passer rule has been expanded. It’s now a penalty if a defender lands on top of a quarterback “in a defenseless posture” “with all or most of his body weight.”

— There wasn’t much talk about the revamped kickoff format, though Allen noted it’s been “tweaked in recent weeks.” He did not elaborate on what’s been changed.

Thumbnail photo via Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY Sports Images

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