The 2019 Officiating rule changes and points of emphasis

The 2019 Officiating rule changes and points of emphasis
The NFL is committed to protecting its players from unnecessary risk, while keeping the game fair, competitive and exciting. Today their officiating team has released the following video to explain the rule changes.

The NFL Competition Committee receives and considers input from coaches, general managers, owners, current players and NFL Legends, the NFL Players Association, medical personnel and the media. It conducts hours of discussion and film study before recommending changes to any rule. 

During this process, the Committee asks several questions about each potential rule change. Such as, does the change improve the game? How will it be officiated and be coached? Can the player play by the rule? 

The league reviews changes with players, coaches and officials during training camp, and the NFL Officiating Clinic. This is to help everyone adapt to the rule changes and points of emphasis. The Officiating Department also provides training videos for players and coaches with specific examples.



Beginning in 2019, both offensive and defensive pass interference calls are reviewable. Plays can be reviewed whether the penalty was called on the field or not. This rule change is subject to a one-year trial period.

A pass interference ruling will be changed in replay if there is clear and obvious visual evidence that the ruling was incorrect. To change the ruling there must be clear and obvious evidence. See full details on the 2019 replay rule here.


Owners voted to expand protection of defenseless players by eliminating the blindside block. It is now prohibited for a blocker to initiate forcible contact with his head, shoulder or forearm when his path is toward or parallel to his own end line. The penalty for an illegal blindside block is a loss of 15 yards and an automatic first down.


Owners voted to make permanent the kickoff rules changes that were implemented in 2018. The restrictions resulted in a 35% decrease in concussions on kickoff plays when compared to the 2017 season.

Here are the NFL kickoff rules:

  • The kickoff team must have five players on each side of the ball and cannot line up more than one-yard from the restraining line. For example, the kicking team will line up at the 34-yard line for a kickoff from the 35-yard line.
  • At least two players must be lined up outside the yard-line number and two players between the inbounds lines (hash marks) and the yard-line number.
  • At least eight players of the receiving team must be lined up in the 15-yard “setup zone” prior to kickoff; only three receiving-team players can remain outside of the setup zone.
  • No wedge blocks are permitted. A wedge block is defined as “two or more players intentionally aligning shoulder-to-shoulder within two yards of each other, and who move forward together in an attempt to block for the runner.”
  • Double-team blocks can only be performed by members of the receiving team who were originally lined up in the set-up zone at the time of the kick.
  • Until the ball is touched or hits the ground, no player on either the receiving or kicking team may block within the 15-yard area from the kicking team’s restraining line. On an onside kick, the kicking team may not block in the first 10 yards.
  • The ball is dead if it is not touched by the receiving team and touches the ground in the end zone (touchback).


In addition to pass interference, owners voted to expand the number of plays subject to booth reviews to include:

  • If a penalty flag is thrown that would negate a touchdown, the play will be reviewed first to determine if there was a score before the defense elects to enforce the foul.
  • All two-point conversion reviews will now be initiated by the Replay Official. The plays are no longer challengeable by a coach. This is true regardless of the call on the field.

Other rule changes for 2019 include:


Beginning in 2019, only players in uniform may enter the field to celebrate. If anyone other than a player in uniform enters the field, it is a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct — loss of 15 yards and an automatic first down.


Owners voted to expand the authority of game officials to disqualify players for acts committed during a game. In 2018, designated members of the officiating team could disqualify a player for non-football acts (such as unsportsmanlike conduct) if a flag was thrown related to that act. In 2019, this will be expanded to also include any football act.


The offense may now apply any penalties committed by the defense to either the ensuing kickoff or to the succeeding extra point or two-point conversion plays.

Photo credit: Scott Boehm via AP.

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