Dean Blandino, infamous guest of the Dallas Cowboys bus and former VP of Officiating for the NFL, said he would be “shocked” if the league did not ban the QB sneak/rugby scrum play. It does feel like it is inevitable that the NFL finds a way to outlaw the play.
If they do, it will be unofficially called “The Jalen Hurts Rule.” Because they would be changing it because of him. No other reason holds up.
Side note: We need a name for the play. Anyone who calls it “the tush push” should not be taken seriously. We do need to think of a proper name for it though. Calling it a QB sneak isn’t right, since the play is completely overt. Though its closest comparison is the rugby scrum, it is most definitely not a rugby scrum. But “tush push”? We can do better.
Pushing the ball carrier has been legal since 2006
The only way to outlaw the play is to ban pushing. Which has been legal for 17 seasons.
ARTICLE 4. ASSISTING THE RUNNER AND INTERLOCKING INTERFERENCE
No offensive player may:
(a) pull a runner in any direction at any time;
(b) use interlocking interference, by grasping a teammate or by using his hands or arms to encircle the body of a teammate in an effort to block an opponent; or
(c) push or throw his body against a teammate to aid him in an attempt to obstruct an opponent or to recover a loose ball.
Pushing a ball carrier used to be part of the assisting the runner penalty, but for the 2006 season the NFL dropped that portion of the rule. Why change it now? Any rule change requires a reason. And any rule in any sport should serve one of two purposes.
One reason is to protect players from injury. The league will likely cite safety concerns for banning pushing a runner, but that will be a load of crap. The sneak/scrum does not put players at a greater risk of injury. If anything it is a relatively safe play in football. No one is moving at a high velocity and impacting another player; and the ball carrier is not in a position to be hit in a manner in which he is unprotected, or in an area of his body where he is unprotected. Pushing the QB half a yard against a wall of linemen doesn’t change that.
The other reason is to force the participants to play the game. This is why shot/play clocks exist, among other things. They force teams to stop screwing around and play ball. If and when pushing is banned, this is will be the real reason why.
That reason will be just as flimsy. Changing rules on aesthetic grounds will create a philosophical debate: what do we want in a football game?
Do we want the league to discourage 4th down attempts? We do not, fans do not want to see more punts, and they want to see touchdowns over field goals. Do we want the league to outlaw plays that are near automatic? If so then why not also get rid of the extra point? Since the NFL moved back the PAT distance, the lowest conversion rate was 93.0% in 2020. The push play has a similar conversion rate, and unlike the push play every PAT success is a score. Do we want fewer high leverage plays? We do not, 4th down attempts are exciting.
Even if they banned pushing players, that overlooks the play itself.
Jalen Hurts isn’t even being pushed on most of the sneak/scrum plays
The opening TD of the Super Bowl was a typical sneak/scrum play for the Eagles. The runners/pushers behind Hurts played no role in him getting across the goal line (the NFL restricts a lot of videos from being embedded so enjoy this one with the Spanish broadcast).
The offensive line and the QB pushed through the defense to score. That’s football.
That is the iconic play of Bart Starr’s career. 3rd and goal, 16 seconds to go and no timeouts left in the 1967 NFL Championship game, down 17-14. These are the moments we want as fans.
Even if the league bans the push, they can’t stop the basics of the play. And they can’t stop Hurts.
The Eagles are nearly unstoppable with it because Jalen Hurts is uniquely suited for it
There is nothing preventing any team from running the Eagles sneak/scrum. They don’t even have to use a QB, though the first time a non-QB loses the snap will probably be the last time a coach uses anyone but a QB for it.
The reason the Eagles run it is because they have a QB who can squat 600 lbs. They’re not exploiting the rules, they’re taking advantage of the gifts of their player. And they’re taking advantage of the changing nature of football. As the running game is continually de-emphasized, teams are building their rosters to get at the QB, not stop the run, so defensive tackles are getting smaller. The 340+ DT is still around but is being slowly phased out of the game, and that gives offenses an advantage in running in short yardage. The Chiefs DTs over center on the Hurts TD are listed at 324 and 310 lbs.
Neither of those advantages are unfair.
College isn’t going to ban it
There is no outcry for the NCAA to outlaw the play. Apparently whatever issues the NFL has magically disappear at the college level.
If the NFL bans pushing the runner it will be because they/the owners don’t like that no one can stop the Eagles. That is the only reason they have. It’ll be petty and disrespectful to Jalen Hurts and to fans. Jalen Hurts should not be punished for being able to execute a play better than anyone else can. Trying to outlaw something because someone is really good at it is a slippery slope the league should not and can not go down.