Relocation of the Umpire
Also known as the Peyton Manning rule. In the interest of safety for the officials the NFL has moved the umpire from 5 yards behind the defensive line to 7-12 yards behind the offensive line, depending on their formation. Even though the rule was altered to not apply within the last 2 minutes of the 2nd quarter and the last 5 minutes of the 4th, it still dictates when teams can use a hurry-up offense. Call me crazy but I don’t think a referee should influence a teams gameplan. Of course the team most affected by this is the Indianapolis Colts, which means the rule might have a short shelf life.
Also affected by this are the extra set of eyes on offensive lines and almost none on the defensive line. Already we’ve seen an increased number of offensive line penalties and that will continue. Pass rushers like Demarcus Ware, James Harrison, and Dwight Freeney could have monster years.
Illegal Formation Penalties
The referees seem to be making it a point of emphasis to ensure all tackles and guards are as close to the line of scrimmage as possible. With the growing number of speed rushers in the NFL, offensive lineman have resorted to lining up a few feet behind the line in order to give themselves more time to adjust. Cracking down on this and forcing them to play more true to the line of scrimmage is going to expose a few guys.
Result: Ware, Freeney, and Harrison salivate.
No More Linebacker Safeties
I’m afraid we’ve seen the last of the Ronnie Lott’s and Darren Woodson’s. The NFL has instituted rule changes that pretty much make it illegal to strike fear into receivers as these all time greats once did. Also, the tight end position has evolved. Now every team seemingly has a guy over 6’3″ and 250lbs that can run like a wide receiver. Safeties that are big hitters with good closing burst but not much range and speed are being replaced. It is imperative for NFL safeties to be able to cover slot receivers and tight ends all over the field. This is best seen in the rise and subsequent cataclysmic fall of Roy Williams. Once one of the best safeties in the game, now an afterthought and instant mismatch for teams with athletic tight ends.
More 3WR Sets
Many teams are utilizing a spread type of offense. The NFL has become a passing league, that’s obvious, but it’s also finding way to make use of hybrid guys. Think Brian Westbrook in the Eagles offense or more recently Reggie Bush. A running back that can be effective in the backfield and lined up in the slot is becoming a trend. I expect rookie Dexter McCluster to have an impact right away with the Chiefs as they have worked him in this role since he was drafted. Felix Jones is another weapon to keep an eye on, his cat-like quickness makes him a threat to score 6 anytime he touches the ball.