In NFL year’s past, it was a rare feat to have a quarterback complete at least 60 percent of his passes. In 2018, there are 31 quarterbacks that are doing just that and 16 of them have at least 15 touchdown passes. A 100-plus-reception season? It’s normal now in today’s age of seemingly unlimited offense. What about the defense though? 

All of the recent NFL rules changes have either benefited offenses or attempted to improve the safety of the game. None have addressed defensive play. Is there a way to give defenses a little something for their effort without sacrificing safety? There is…

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Change the Illegal Contact Penalty
Defenders may only contact a receiver trying to evade him within five yards of the line of scrimmage. This a huge advantage for the offense, but the bigger plus for an offense is the automatic first down that goes along with the penalty. An offense faces a third and 13 situation. The defense comes up with a stop, but a defender is flagged for illegal contact 20 yards down the field. Instead of third-and-8, the offense gets the five-yard penalty plus a new set of downs to work with. 

The result of the penalty doesn’t seem to fit the infraction itself. The league could simply make it a five-yard penalty and repeat the down (unless the five yards gives the offense a first down). The NFL could also expand the “chuck zone” where a defender can contact an eligible receiver. Currently, the chuck zone is five yards. The league could expand it to ten. 

Enforce the Ineligible Receiver Downfield Rule
This comes up as a talking point every year at annual rules meetings, but the league doesn’t necessarily do anything about its enforcement. The rise of the RPO, or run-pass option play, has many defensive coordinators scratching their heads as they watch offensive linemen seven, eight, even ten yards downfield on pass plays. 

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The rule states that an ineligible player may not move more than one yard beyond the line of scrimmage before a pass has been thrown. Watch the Kansas City Chiefs sometime and you will see linemen downfield while QB Patrick Mahomes completes a pass beyond the line of scrimmage. This one is simple. The rule already exists; the NFL just has to enforce it.

Add Another Official
College football has already been doing this since 2014. In 2010, the NFL moved the umpire from the defensive side of the ball to behind the quarterback. The ineligible receiver penalty doesn’t get called often because there is no official in the middle of the field to see it. Adding an eighth official would put a guy on the defensive side of the ball where the umpire used to be. It’s not like the NFL won’t have guys to do it. Guys at the college level already have experience working for the eight-man crew. 

As it stands, defenses can’t really hit the quarterback and can’t hit receivers past five yards. Defenses are, for the most part, forced to let offenses complete passes and then make tackles all the while hoping for an offense to make a mistake. A simple tweak here and there by the NFL could make defense and therefore, games more competitive.

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