As well as a football game, there are always ways to improve it.
For example, Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh has the idea of canceling overtime so that the fourth quarter goes into overtime instead of starting the extra period with a coin toss. So if a team has third and fourth at midfield as the clock expires and the score is tied, that team continues with the same down, length and field position in overtime.
It’s an interesting concept — overtime has come under a lot of scrutiny in recent years — although a formal proposal would certainly face a lot of pushback. For example, some people argued that the two minute play from the games would be bled. Why would a team take the risk of winning at the end of regulation if they knew they could play the clock and keep going?
Regardless, Harbaugh was just tinkering with the idea, and there’s a lot of that suggested tinkering that goes on each and every offseason.
With that in mind, The Times asked a collection of people involved in football about an NFL rule or rules they would like to change.
They had a wide range of answers:
The Hall of Fame quarterback believes that pass interference calls can be too punishing on a defense, especially when an offense is flagging up a large piece of real estate.
“Pass interference is out of the question. The top talent out there is being tested. There is no talent in putting up a lollipop bomb in the last seconds of the game and a little goofball thing happens that ticks a tack and you get 40 yards. It’s not right.
“You say, what about an egregious pass interference? It still feels like all the net I look at are growing rods of crap. They don’t deserve it. They need to come up with something that shows more of the level of talent that is being put at risk rather than some guy hitting a long ball that is unlikely to work. Then it’s, ‘Well, look at that! We have 43 yards!’ The game is less reflective of the talent and skill level of the competition. When you say it’s 15 yards like in college, defenses can get bolder and it forces offenses to raise their game.”
The Hall of Fame coach agrees with the rules that impose strict limits on players practicing in patches.
“Let the coaches train and practice their teams as they need to practice. I spoke to these guys, and they say: ‘We have to take three days off. We can’t practice hitting twice in a row in a pan.’ I understand what they are trying to do to make it safer. But I think we’re taking some of the coaching out of the game. Yes, I must have some parameters when preparing my team, but don’t make me everyone’s coach.
“I’ve talked to a lot of coaches, especially defensive coaches, who tell me, ‘If I have a problem during the season, I can’t really solve it because I can’t practice enough, or it’s hard enough to solution. some of my technical problems.’
“Unlike the old days, offenses now have an advantage coming out of training camp. If I’m a quarterback, I can take my whole group to Duke or Phoenix, and we can throw balls all over the place. Defenses cannot do that. Now I come into training camp and practice, and I can’t practice enough to catch up. I know my first two weeks on Sunday night that I will be complaining about bad tackling and bad defensive fundamentals. It’s just a result of the way we have to practice now.”
Although he is retired from the NFL, the The longtime referee keeps a close eye on the rules and trends of the game. He has a few ideas that would help defenses.
“You have to keep making it safer, and I would take low blocks out of the game completely. Both the offense and the defense feel that there are times when you have to go after your knees. That is not required. Athletes, no matter how good they are, will pay for it later in life. Why do they allow that? So it makes the offensive coordinator’s job a little easier? The legal blocks in the goal zone are devastating enough to satisfy anyone who enjoys the game for its collisions. So we don’t need low blocks.
“If I were a fan of the defense or a defensive coordinator, what I would want the league to do is put the offensive tackles up on the line of scrimmage. Because if you look at it now, the offensive line is the shape of a stealth bomber with the tackles bent off the line of scrimmage. That makes it extremely difficult for the defensive ends because it takes an angle away from him. Now it protects the quarterback more, so that’s probably why they’re not strict about getting the tackles up on the line of scrimmage.
“I will get rid of illegal contact. You already have the best athlete on the field at cornerback. It’s incredible what he can do going backwards. That would give the defense a better leg up.”
The playoff announcer, who will move this season from Fox to “Monday Night Football” on ESPN, believes the league can further streamline the instant review process.
“To me, it feels like the instant replay rule works a little faster in college football than it does in the NFL. If something needs to be reviewed, I think college football has the ability to do that without a coach being involved. If something looks wrong, it shouldn’t be the coach’s job to challenge. That stuff should be taken care of. The NFL is kind of going there with this quick replay where they can quickly overrule a clear call rather than waiting around. There is a lot of dead time. Many are worried about freeze-framing everything. It has become too detailed, and the delay can be too long and unnecessary. Flag, flag, flag, look at it, look at it, see if it disrupts game flow.
“If it looks like a landing or it looks incomplete, it probably should be. It’s questioning a lot of TV viewers and their patience when this stuff is so detailed. When the flow of the game is disrupted to the point where it becomes so fluid with certain replays, and they’re cramming different angles together like a Zapruder film, it’s just too much.”
All Hall of Fame receivers have a rare but somewhat controversial penalty called on ball carriers who lower their heads while making contact.
“I’ve only seen it called a few times during a season, but it’s like the worst call ever. What would you guy do, run with his head up? Reveal his entire upper body? It’s so crazy. You have to protect yourself, and the only way to do that is to put your pads above your knees. They want everyone to run like Eric Dickerson with that running style. But you don’t know of any other great running back, either receiver or running back, who had that style. It is for a reason.
“Eric put those knees in your face so it made it hard for people to get to him. But you think of the Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smiths of the world, nobody ran like that. That’s what you’re taught. I grew up as a running back, and one thing they taught you is when you get to that hole, you better have your pads on your knees because something is coming. You may not see it coming, but it is coming.”
The leading play-by-play man, who is now working on Thursday night games for Amazon Prime, wants the story in the stadium.
“The league is very concerned about doing the in-game presentation as well as on TV. Television is now a better way to watch the game than being there live. All of these stadiums have tried to improve the experience, and they’ve succeeded in doing it with things like the video program at SoFi Stadium. It is extremely on the charts.
“But when I see that sign at any sport that says, ‘Make noise,’ I’m thinking, what do you mean make noise? What does that mean? That has nothing to do with the game. I don’t want to sound like an old codger, but the crowd should respond to what’s happening in a game.
“When I go into stadiums these days, and in at least half of them, the thing that makes me crazier than the fool is when I hear the PA announcer screaming, blaring out the fade-out,’Thirrrrrd dooooown!‘ I can’t take it. What are you trying to do? If your home team is on the defensive, do you want to lock down the opponent’s signals? That’s not going to do it. It just creates headaches for people.”
The offensive guru and former coach of the St. Louis Rams is the most effective rule: Leave the game alone.
“I was on the competition committee for several years, and this is what would happen: A head coach would miss a game for some reason, then we would make a rule about it. And you put bubble gum on all these little holes. It has distorted the game so badly. And the accumulation of all these small changes will change the game dramatically over 20 years.
“Just live with it. Just living by the rules we all had. Obviously there have been big changes to the rules, cutting back on the linen men and things like that. But twenty years from now, this won’t even be a game we recognize.”