The NFL, ever-conscious of the health and safety of its players, has communicated its 2013 rules changes to all teams, including points of emphasis for officials.
Among the changes, which include the elimination of the much-ballyhooed "tuck rule," taunting will be scrupulously scrutinized. Specifically, players standing menacingly over prone opponents, spiking, throwing, or spinning footballs, will receive a 15-yard penalty for taunting.
There are other minor rules changes aimed at increasing the safety of players:
1. Runners can no longer lower their heads and initiate contact with the crown of their helmet, especially after having lined up an opponent. They will receive a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty.
2. There are added restrictions for defenses on field goal, punt, and extra-point attempts. There can be no more than six defenders on either end of the snapper, now a 5-yard penalty for illegal formation. Defensive linemen cannot crowd and push down offensive linemen when attempting to block field goal or extra-point attempts. That will lead to a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty. And now, defensive linemen also cannot block below the waist on field goal, punt, or extra-point attempts in order to get an advantage as well. (Offensive players, on the kicking team, can still block below the waist.)
In a slight change, the long snapper is now considered completely defenseless.
3. The peel-back block has been eliminated. It had been allowed within the tackle box, but now it is a 15-yard penalty with potential discipline from the league.
4. All players except for kickers and punters have to wear knee and thigh pads. If a player is caught without them, it could lead to a 5-yard penalty for illegal substitution or disqualification for a repeated violation.
5. The tuck rule is gone. Now, a loss of control after a passer starts to tuck the ball back to his body will be a fumble. Prior to this change, it was a pass until the passer actually tucked the ball all the way back to his body.
6. Erroneous coaching challenges won't prevent plays from still being challenged. This is the result of a play last season on which Houston's Justin Forsett broke loose for an 81-yard touchdown against Detroit. Forsett's knee clearly touched the ground after contact before he hopped up and scampered away for the score. Detroit coach Jim Schwartz threw a challenge flag, negating the automatic review of a scoring play. His team was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Now, if a coach challenges a scoring play, a turnover, a play that began after the two-minute warning of either half, or a play in an overtime period, that team will automatically be charged a timeout. If it doesn't have a timeout, it will be assessed a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. However, the play will still be reviewed.
Officials will also make it a point to penalize players who attempt to hit or tackle offensive players after forward progress has ended or the player is already in the grass. And offensive players who grab and move face masks -- like Baltimore's Torrey Smith on the Patriots' Devin McCourty last season -- will be penalized 15 yard for unnecessary roughness.