Teams across the NFL were visited last week by referees who were sent to explain what the offseason rules tweaks were, and how tightly they might be called this season.
Several Cincinnati Bengals joined what has become a growing chorus of players around the league who have varying degrees of dissatisfaction with the changes.
Among the changes that have drawn the biggest concerns include a new emphasis being placed on penalizing offensive or defensive linemen who make any type of contact with the facemask of the player they are blocking or rushing. In the past, linemen were only penalized for pushing their counterparts head back for prolonged periods of time. Now, if the head gets touched at all, a flag must be thrown.
Another area of emphasis that bugged some Bengals over the weekend has to do with offensive and defensive pass interference. On the offensive side of the ball, receivers will get flagged for interference if an official determines that he made clear separation with his arm to catch a pass. It seems like a problematic rule, because a simple arm bar could be viewed as a push-off depending upon where an official is standing.
Take Saturday's Bengals scrimmage, for example. Receiver A.J. Green pulled away from his defender on a 50-yard bomb that quarterback Andy Dalton dropped right into his hands at the goal line. The score was negated, though when the official closest to the play ruled that Green had pushed off. To most others who watched the play, defensive players included, it didn't appear he had pushed off.
"Come on. It was a touchdown," Dalton said. "He did a good job of getting open and making a play."
Green said he didn't ask the ref for clarification. He's simply going to continue playing cornerbacks the way he feels he always has.
"I've been doing this for four years and never got called," Green said.
Along with receivers and quarterbacks, certain defensive players will feel similarly bugged by the new emphasis being placed on defensive holds and contact downfield. Defenders can't make contact with receivers past 5 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Even if a defensive player grabs a receiver's jersey at any point in the route, he'll get charged with illegal touching.
Here's a snippet of Bengals' takes on the potentially problematic penalties:
Andrew Whitworth, on the hands-to-the-face enforcement: "I understand some of it. But it's going to be hard to officiate. The prolonged thing made sense to me. This one does not. There's too much hand-fighting that goes on with the offensive linemen and D-linemen, so a hand's going to slip there or get knocked there that wasn't even intending to go there, and then you're going to dictate a game off of something that you're catching after the fact anyway. So that's the thing, I just want to know how touchy we're going to be with it before I quite understand it. Then the other part of it, I made this point to the referee, nowadays, the new-age rusher, it's all about lowering my helmet and rushing people over. That's kind of the new thing, the bull rush, trying to run people over thing. ... My point to him was that if I can't protect myself with my hands, and I'm just supposed to take a crown of the helmet to the face, then we need the same protection a defensive player has with a running back lowering their helmets.
"Now I just have to absorb it, which is going to cause more linemen to get concussions and have head stuff. ... To me, honestly, they're putting you in a situation that makes the least amount of safety."
Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson on the offensive interference calls: "It's going to be an adjustment. I want to go back and see the plays. I thought the officials called it really close. It takes it to a whole different level for us as far as watching it and making sure we pay attention to it, because we don’t want to create bad habit patterns for ourselves. We’ll take a real close look at it and see what we can do better.
"There’s a point in there where the defensive back can be physical and the receiver can be physical, but we don’t want to be pushing off. What we want to do is be very aggressive to and through the ball, but not the point to where we might draw penalties.
"He called them and we have to go back and get it fixed, because we don’t want that to be an issue for us during the year."
Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther on defensive holding/touching calls: "I don't think it changes anything with the technique. We play a certain way out there, and they've got to understand that outside of five yards, they're going to be looking at it close and we can't do it. We're monitoring it throughout training camp. We had the officials here and I asked them to watch it outside as closely as they can. So far, it's been pretty good."