One of the staples of the Colts high-speed, high-powered offense has been the physical toll defenses pay against the Peyton Manning run offense. Generally speaking, Manning focuses on finding the weakness in the personnel he is facing and relentlessly exploits that weakness as opposing defensive coordinators are forced to sit and watch without a chance to adjust. The way Manning accomplishes this is by rushing the offense to the line quickly, getting set before defenders have a chance to respond, and often before teams are able to send in substitutions. This can lead to tired defenders, faked injuries, and a relentless offensive assault. Alex Marvez of FOXSports.com wrote a story today about a positioning change for NFL umpires that could hinder this powerful attribute in the Colts offensive arsenal.
Outside of two minutes, and any time the offense is not attempting a field goal, the NFL umpire will move from his former position just behind the linebackers, five to seven yards from the line of scrimmage, to a new position on the offensive side of the ball, 12 to 15 yards from the line of scrimmage. The move was made in order to protect NFL officials, who have suffered concussions and injuries due to collisions with players (as shown in the video above).
The potential snag in this position change is that the umpire is generally responsible for spotting the football. If the umpire has to catch up from behind the play, in order to retrieve the ball, spot it, and then run back to his position, more real-time (not game-time) will pass before offenses and defenses can get set on the football.
In an effort to limit the impact of the rule, the NFL will allow the officials to spot by committee on any play that finishes five or more yards downfield. Even then it will take the officials more time to run over from their spots, generally closer to the sidelines or deep behind the secondary, than it took previously with the umpire much closer to the middle of the field -- where plays would typically end.
Rams Head Coach Steve Spagnuolo suggests that quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady will not be greatly affected by the change because, although they hurry to the line, they generally spend a lot of time reading the defenses before they snap the football. No offense to Spagnuolo, but he must think fans are stupid if he thinks they will fail to see through this argument.
Defensive coordinators, and defensive minded coaches like Spagnuolo, will obviously be in favor of this kind of rule because the thing that hurts most about the speed of Manning and the Colts offense is how much it hinders an opponent's ability to make substitutions and defensive adjustments. Sure, the change will not affect the "speedy nature" of the no-huddle offense in terms of actual performance but it will certainly provide defenses with a bigger window to make changes.
There is no telling just how much this will hurt Manning or the Colts offense. It is probably safe to bet that little impact will be seen in terms of offensive success, but it could allow opposing defenses to not suffer from the fatigue that often coincides with the Colts offensive pace.
Making the change may be the best thing for the NFL to do for the safety of its officials. Still, it is transparent why defensive coordinators would defend the rule as having little or no impact on an offense like the one the Colts employ. It will be worth keeping an eye on as the new season gets underway in September. Maybe the days of catching defenses with too many men on the field are over.