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Dropping The Hip-Drop, And Adjusting Coaches Challenges

NFL passes another rule on tackling to help safety

The hip-drop rule was passed on Monday, drawing with it the expected disappointment from players and ex-players alike. The NFL Players Association was against the rule, not a surprise since it is yet another example of making the defense's job more difficult.

(It was, indeed, hard not to notice that during the press conference Monday, Competition Committee Chairman Rich McKay reiterated that scoring, historically around 45 points a game, was down to 43.5 and while 45 "is a good number, we certainly want to be above 43.")

But it became clear the hip-drop -- or at least a version of it -- was going to be banned, because the league doesn't want to lose players to injuries. The "swivel" hip-drop tackle was performed 230 times this past season, said NFL spokesman Jeff Miller, a stat that went up 65 percent from the previous season.

McKay said there were three parts to the outlawed part of the hip-drop: the swivel where a defended launches into the air, the "unweighting" where the defender lets his body go dead-weight, and then the defender landing on the player's legs.

"The unweighting is a big part of it," McKay said.

The idea is that flags will be thrown only when officials see all those elements in real time. The belief is that most of the "learning" from players will come in the form of fines sent out after the fact. McKay, for instance, said the players have done a great job learning how not to drop their body weight on a quarterback during a sack where at first they were concerned about how they could do that.

McKay thinks the same thing will happen in this circumstance. 

(I won't argue with those who don't like this, including all the NFL defenders. But I'll take issue with it costing fans. Fans didn't stop watching when they put in the defenseless receiver rules, they didn't stop when the roughing the passer rules were changed, and they won't stop with this either.)

-- There was another rule passed, although with much less fanfare. The Lions proposed a tweak to the coach's challenge rule that said a team had to be successful with each of their first two challenges in a game to earn a third. Instead, now a coach only has to win one of the two challenges for a team to get a third challenge. The change "passed barely," McKay said, but it is in place.

(Not that Jonathan Gannon's first season really demonstrated a need for that with the Cardinals; Gannon challenged just one play all season -- it came in the finale against the Seahawks, and it was successful.)

-- The kickoff rule is going to be changed sooner rather than later, it seems. "It's the chance to keep special teams in the game," McKay said. The NFL is down to having kickoffs returned only about 21 percent of the time, a number the league wants to increase.

There isn't much momentum to change the onside kick more than it already was, but recovering an onside kick -- which was once about 13 percent of the time when it was organized chaos and hitting -- has dwindled to five percent with the new safety-first rules. Another year of such (unsuccessful) data could help the argument, McKay said.

-- Tom Pelissero reported that the replay assistant will now be allowed to intervene on "certain types" of wrong calls for intentional grounding and roughing the passer.

Competition Committee chairman Rich McKay
Competition Committee chairman Rich McKay