DANA POINT, Calif. -- NFL team owners passed four player safety rules for next season on Tuesday and adjusted the calls on the kind of tackle that injured New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady during the 2008 opener.
Defenders who are knocked to the ground no longer can lunge into quarterbacks if the play is still ongoing. Kansas City Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard did just that on the hit that ended Brady's season almost before it began, and NFL officiating director Mike Pereira placed such plays in the player safety category.
"We're trying to make the game safer for the guy getting hit and the guy doing the hitting," said Pereira, who plans to retire after the 2009 season.
That adjustment was not a rule change and did not require an owners vote. But four other rules were adopted by the 32 teams:
» The initial force of a blindside block can't be delivered by a helmet, forearm or shoulder to an opponent's head or neck. An illegal blindside block will bring a 15-yard penalty.
» Initial contact to the head of a defenseless receiver also will draw a 15-yard penalty. "Our clear movement is to getting out of the striking in the head area," Pereira said. "We're reading about injuries that say spinal and vertebrae. We've got to try something."
» On kickoffs, no blocking wedge of more than two players will be allowed. A 15-yard penalty will go to a violating team.
» Also on kickoffs, the kicking team can't have more than five players bunched together pursuing an onside kick. Breaking this rule would draw a 5-yard penalty.
Pereira, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the two heads of the competition committee -- Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay and Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher -- repeatedly have emphasized that the players themselves sought many of these alterations.
"There were no changes in the injury numbers, but when it comes to player safety, we try to stay proactive," McKay said.
Players also tend to police themselves once the league starts fining or suspending them for illegal hits. Last season, there were two suspensions (New York Jets safety Eric Smith for hitting Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Anquan Boldin, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Elbert Mack for a tackle of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan) and a $25,000 fine (Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson for a hit on Buffalo Bills quarterback Trent Edwards) in the first five weeks of the schedule.
After that? None.
Pereira was dismayed by the lack of progress in curbing horse-collar tackles. There were 24 called in 2008, up from 12, but there also were 47 league fines handed out for them.
"That's just too high a number," Pereira said. "We have not been effective in terms of stopping the tactic."
Such tackles will be a point of emphasis with officiating crews in 2009.
So will holding penalties, on which the variance of calls from crew to crew has been huge. Pereira's office is compiling a tape that will be shown to officials, coaching staffs and players.
"It's one area we need to find consistency from crew to crew," he said.
Asked about the ratings for each crew last year, Pereira said they averaged 98.1 percent accuracy, down slightly from 98.3 in 2007. Naturally, he wants that number as close to 100 percent as possible.
"We had some train wrecks, and train wrecks hurt you," he said, referring to Ed Hoculi's blown call on Jay Cutler's fumble in a Week 2 game between the Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers and to the Week 11 victory by Pittsburgh over San Diego 11-10 in which a late Steelers touchdown wrongly was negated. "They hurt perception. It was hard getting through Week 2. That's what we have to avoid this year."
The owners could make that easier by passing a rule allowing video replay to be used to determine whether a play similar to Cutler's is an incomplete pass or a fumble. That vote is expected Wednesday.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press