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Ron Rivera doesn’t want end zone fumble-touchback rule to change

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Rivera doesn’t want end zone fumble-touchback rule to change originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Besides determining what is and what isn’t a catch, the NFL’s fumble-touchback rule is the league’s most controversial ordinance. 

Here’s the rule, put in simple terms: If an offensive player fumbles the football and it goes out of bounds in the end zone, the team that was originally on defense now takes over the ball on its own 20-yard line. This, of course, is a lot different than if an offensive player fumbles the football out of bounds at any other part of the field, where that team retains possession with the ball placed where it crossed over the white lines.

During this past season’s playoffs, this controversial rule once again came up when Browns wideout Rashad Higgins fumbled the football in the end zone in the Divisional Round against the Chiefs. The turnover, naturally, played a pivotal role in the final outcome of the game, a five-point Kansas City victory.

At the time of Higgins’ fumble, Washington defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio took to Twitter to share his opinion on the rule, calling it “outdated” and saying it needs to be changed.

Del Rio’s direct boss, Washington head coach Ron Rivera, disagrees with him, telling Rich Eisen that the rule should stay as is.

“There is always that caveat, that if I always risk it by putting the ball out, putting the ball out, putting the ball out, if I always risk that, then there’s no penalty for the risk,” Rivera said. “Nothing can be risk-free. There has to be a penalty.”

Rivera compared it to when a rookie arrives to his first training camp and immediately puts on a show because said rookie is playing in a risk-free environment.

“It’s crazy. It’s like when we go through training camp and we have a rookie that is making all these plays on defense and we go ‘this guy is going to be a great cornerback.’ I always say ‘not so fast. He’s practicing with no consequences,'” Rivera said. 

“Then they get on the field, everything is in front of them, they get tackled, all this stuff. Everybody goes, ‘what happened to this guy we had in training camp?’ Well, there’s no consequences in training camp.”

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With how the rule is currently in place, players know the risk they take by extending the football near the goal line. Countless times have we seen players fumble the football on the one-yard line as they attempt to cross the plane of the end zone.

As Rivera pointed out, that risk goes all away if they end up changing the rule.

“When it’s for real, and there’s consequences, they might not be sticking that ball out because there should always be that chance that they may lose that ball, it may cost them,” the head coach said. 

To back up his reasoning once more, Rivera concluded his reasoning for why the rule should stay how it currently is by comparing it to when a referee calls a pass interference penalty.

“A guy throws the ball in the air 50 yards downfield and these guys are hand-fighting and the referee decides to call defensive pass interference, the ball is on the one [yard line],” Rivera said. “But if they call it on the offense, it’s where the ball was thrown where the penalty goes from.”

The NFL has made many rule changes over the past several years, with most of them benefitting the offensive side of the football. Defenders, specifically defensive backs, simply can’t be as physical as they once were. It’s just one of the many reasons why offenses are scoring points at an all-time high of a rate.

So, with already so many rules in place that benefit the offense, Rivera feels the end zone touchback rule must remain to at least give defenses a chance.

“That’s why for me it’s hard to sit there and say they should change that rule,” Rivera said. “If there’s no consequences, people are going to try. Well, there’s nothing to help the defense then.”

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