GLENDALE, Ariz. – Jerraud Powers sees the future, and he’s accepted it.
The Arizona Cardinals cornerback said the NFL is becoming a passing league and there’s nothing defenses can do about it – except hope officials call a fair game. Three of this year’s officiating points of emphasis involve limiting where defensive backs and wide receivers can put their hands.
“At the end of the day, the fans like seeing points scored; that helps sells tickets, that helps TV ratings go up,” Powers said. “I think all the rule changes for the receivers are starting to go in a way that just show the league is transitioning to an offensive league. We just got to make the adjustments and play.
“Hopefully they call it both ways because receivers do a lot of stuff and vice versa, but you rarely see it called.”
The points of emphasis are being reaffirmed in Arizona this week by NFL referee Bill Vinovich and a few officials, who worked Friday’s practice and will be on the field again Saturday. Before Friday’s practice, Vinovich met with the media to go over six upcoming changes. Among them is a zero tolerance for verbal abuse, specifically for racial and sexual slurs. Vinovich said the referees haven’t been given exact guidelines to govern under only that if the language is used in a taunting manner, it’ll automatically be flagged.
Cut blocks from the side are now illegal, meaning an offensive blocker cannot roll up on the side of a defensive player’s legs. It was already against the rules to roll up on the back of a defensive player’s legs. The clock will continue running after a sack unless it’s stopped for a different reason, such as a timeout or penalty. During replays, referees can have contact with the NFL’s officiating department in New York City to discuss reviews. Vinovich said he expects the officiating department to help queue up the best angles for refs before they reach the hood, but in the end Vinovich emphasized that the referee will have the final call on reviews. Loose balls recovered in the field of play are now able to be reviewed.
And starting with Sunday’s Hall of Fame Game and lasting through the first two preseason games, extra points will be kicked from the 15-yard line in an effort to make the play more competitive. This isn’t a rule change but merely an experiment, according to the league’s rules video. But Cardinals kicker Jay Feely, who hasn’t missed an extra point since 2003, doesn’t see the need for it.
“Every rule change that they’ve implemented has been for player safety,” Feely said. “You really aren’t rushing that hard so you don’t have guys that get injured that much on an extra point. Move it back to the 15-yard line, you’re going to rush a lot harder, a lot of the offensive linemen are going to be put in precarious situations, there’s going to be a lot more injuries.
“So, you’re creating 70 more plays for no tangible benefit where the guys can get hurt. So it kinda runs counter intuitive to the changes that they’ve made.”
Verbal abuse wasn’t the only unsportsmanlike conduct penalty addressed. In the wake of New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham delaying a game in November because his dunk over the crossbar bent the goal posts, the league now considers the goal posts a prop and using a prop in a celebration is illegal.
Cardinals wide receiver Michael Floyd guessed he dunked the football four times last season. When asked what he’ll do now, Floyd said he’ll just lay it up. But how Vinovich explained the rule, that still might be a penalty.
One point of emphasis will be limiting the use of hands to the face, head or neck. This is a change from last year when quick hits to the face that weren’t prolonged were legal. Now neither offensive nor defensive linemen are allowed to put their hands on an opponents’ face, head or neck -- even for a second.
“That’ll be nice if it gets called,” Cardinals left tackle Jared Veldheer said. “I just remember getting bull-rushed and getting the helmet lifted up [and thinking], ‘Alright, can't recover off this.’"
Among other points of emphasis is that a defensive player can’t have contact with a receiver after five yards from the line of scrimmage when the quarterback is in the pocket with the football. This has long been a rule but the definition of five yards was always a grey area. Some crews, Powers said, would allow contact for six or seven yards. Now it’s being called for illegal contact after a hard five yards.
“We’ll see how it goes in preseason,” Powers said. “Last year, in preseason it was called strict. Then once the season got along it was a little lenient depending on whose crew it was.”
Any grabbing of a jersey, whether it impedes a receiver or not, is considered defensive holding
“Sometimes it’s like a reaction,” Powers said. “Like, if you think he’s going one way and he goes the other you might get a little tug.”
Another point of emphasis this season will be offensive pass interference. Officials will keep a close eye on receivers who push off to give themselves space, especially at the end of their routes. They’ll also be watching for sudden or abrupt moves on the offensive line, which will be called for false starts.
Powers said he won’t try to think about the new rules and points of emphasis much while he plays. He’ll continue to play how he plays and if he gets a flag, he’ll adjust mid-game.
The Cardinals' coaching staff has been pointing out penalties on tape throughout camp, especially coach Bruce Arians when it comes to a defensive penalty.
“Any time it’s anything close to a pass interference, of course he’s ‘You can’t do this, you can’t do that,’” Powers said. “If the offense does something [worth being penalized for] he might not say a word. That’s just being with an offensive coach. It’s definitely a point of emphasis. I mean, us as a defense, we call out what we know is a penalty and what’s not.
“If they’re going to make these rule changes and call it how it’s supposed to be called both ways, you probably won’t hear too many complaints. But as a defender we won’t really get too many calls.”