After NFL Rule Changes, is the Game Safer or Just More Exciting?

Since 2009, scoring in NFL games has been trending upward which probably comes as a surprise to no one who watches NFL games. In fact, the NFL hit an all time high in 2013 of 23.4 points per game. That average has increased every season since 2009 when it was 21.5 points. That particular year it had decreased from the previous 2008 season slightly.
2013- 23.4
2012- 22.8
2011- 22.2
2010- 22.0
2009- 21.5

*A 10% increase in scoring in just 5 years.

Coincidently or perhaps not, significant rule changes occurred after the 2008 season and while the NFL said it was to make the game safer, has it really resulted in a safer game or just a higher scoring more offensive oriented game?

The number of NFL players on injured reserve actually has increased since 2009.
Players on IR
2013- 269
2012- 264
2011- 252
2010- 253
2009- 223

As far as concussions go, the number of reported concussions decreased in 2013 after an increase in 2012. Some medical personnel are skeptical that the numbers actually decreased with more emphasis on not allowing players to play after a diagnosed concussion. The fear is they won’t get reported.
“I commend the efforts that the N.F.L. and N.F.L. Players Association have made,” said Chris Nowinski, the executive director of the Sports Legacy Institute. “However, I’m still certain that 90 to 95 percent of concussions are still not diagnosed, so in that sense the numbers are meaningless. If you can diagnose every symptomatic blow to the head, you wouldn’t have enough players on the field.”

In an effort to make the NFL game safer, here are some of the changes that occurred. Notice most all of them are in favor of the offense. Things really seemed to change after the 2008 season when scoring decreased. Rule changes prior to the 2009 season favored passing.

1. It is an illegal hit on a defenseless receiver if the initial force of the contact by the defender’s helmet, forearm, or shoulder is to the head or neck area of the receiver. Penalty: 15 yards.
2. It is an illegal “blindside” block if the blocker is moving toward his own endline and approaches the opponent from behind or from the side, and the initial force of the contact by the blocker’s helmet, forearm, or shoulder is to the head or neck area of an opponent. Penalty: 15-yards.
1. A player who has just completed a catch is protected from blows to the head or neck by an opponent who launches.
All “defenseless players” are protected from blows to the head delivered by an opponent’s helmet, forearm, or shoulder.
1.The list of “defenseless players” is expanded to include defensive players on crackback blocks, making it illegal to hit them in the head or neck area.

The changes have been focused on protecting the passers and receivers primarily and therefore making the game more conducive to passing.

The Games are producing more offense: Not only more scoring,
-yards passing hit an all time high in 2013 at 235.6/gm. Up every season since 2008.
-pass attempts also hit an all time high in 2013 at 35.4. Up every season since 2008. (ditto for completions)
-First downs hit an all time high in 2013 at 19.9. Up every season since 2008.
-First downs by penalty (1.8) tied a high reached in 2012.
-First downs by passing hit all time high in 2013 at 12.1. Up every season since 2008.

As you might suspect, rushing the ball is declining.

There you have it. Numbers that clearly show an increase in offense in the NFL but no significant decline in injuries and even an increase of players on IR. Did the NFL sincerely intend to make the game safer or was their intent to make it more exciting for fans to watch in the form of scoring through passing? Certainly the popularity of Fantasy Football is driven by offensive stats.

When our government talks like they are concerned with my safety, I can’t help but be a little skeptical that they are actually getting ready to get more of my money. Like enforcing a lower speed limit for example. It rarely results in safer driving as people drive as crazy as ever but it just offers more opportunity for law enforcement to raise revenue through tickets and fines.

Perhaps the NFL is sincere in making the game safer which I think only so much can be done there before you negatively impact the game. But clearly the changes have increased their popularity and the increase in offense is probably not unintentional.