Helmet Rules and How To Fix Them

What you do with your helmet should only matter if someone gets hurt.

It didn’t take long for the new helmet rule to piss everyone off.

Things really came to a head this last weekend when the Cardinals played the Chargers where two Arizona players had fouls called against them.

The first involved Cardinals safety A.J. Howard who caused a fumble on Chargers tight end Sean Culkin after a catch. Arizona recovered the ball. But Howard received a penalty for a hit on a defenseless receiver. However, Culkin clearly had a possession of the ball and was now a runner.

The only realistic interpretation was that because Howard lowered his helmet to make the hit he got called for it. But Howard was fine. If it wasn’t for the new helmet rule this would have been a standard issue play on the football.

The second incident regarding a helmet was in the 4th quarter when safety Travell Dixon, who basically stood straight up waiting for the ball carrier, slightly bent his head down upon contact and creamed the guy. Maybe his helmet hit the dude’s shoulder pad, but that’s it. Yet, he was called for a foul based on the new rule and the Cardinals were dinged an extra 15 yards.

To say that NFL fans took umbrage with the rule as applied in this game would be like saying America was miffed about Pearl Harbor. Brad Evans of Yahoo Sports said this:

Forget the Anthem debate, the new helmet rule, if enforced regularly during the regular season, is going to kill the NFL.

So, what exactly is this new controversial helmet rule?

Playing Rule Article 8: It is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent. The player may be disqualified. Applies to any player anywhere on the field. The player may be disqualified.

This is an alteration of an older rule regarding the helmet. Originally, the basic rule was that anyone who intentionally and flagrantly lowered his head as a battering ram outside of the tackle box could be penalized. That was a specific rule which the players easily adapted.

Now, even if a player makes contact with his helmet inadvertently, regardless of harm to the other player, he can be penalized, and even ejected.

In just one week of preseason games, one player has already been kicked out.

In the game between Indianapolis and Seattle, Colts’ safety Shamarko Thomas made helmet-to-helmet contact with receiver David Moore. Moore left the game, presumably with a concussion. It took only moments for the refs to eject Thomas.

The main difference between this hit and what happened to the Arizona players is the helmet-to-helmet hit, and that Moore was hurt badly enough to not be able to play the rest of the game.

Indianapolis coach Frank Reich had this to say:

That was very disappointing. I’m very disappointed.¬†We don’t teach that. That was a good call, that was the appropriate call, he should have been ejected. … That could have been avoided, should have been avoided, and the referees did the right thing.

And that’s exactly right. That’s how the rule should be enforced. And only how it should be enforced.

Sports only work when they’re played fairly. So if a player does something that even his own coach says was wrong, and it results in a player from the opposing team having to leave the game, the offending player should have to go to, too. It’s only fair.

Applying the rule that way should be enough of an incentive to make a player be more cognizant of his technique without abandoning how the game of football is played all together.

Davante Adams was hit like that twice last year, and yet the players that did it remained in the game, putting the Packers at a distinct disadvantage.

Can you totally exorcise those hits from the game? No, probably not. But as upset as everyone may be with the new rule, Jordy Nelson thinks the kind of hits on Thomas and Adams can be avoided:

Guys are in full control of their bodies there. You can control that. You know the guy’s not looking. I don’t know if Davante was even moving. So it’s one of those things that we control our bodies at extreme rates all the time, and I think that’s something you can control.

You can’t ever stop a guy from lowering his head unintentionally to make your standard tackle. And if there’s no harm to the other player, then what difference does it make?

But if a professional football player can avoid using his helmet in a matter that jeopardizes the outcome for his team, then maybe the league can minimize the kind of hits this rule was meant to prevent without altering the sport as we know it.

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