NFL Helmet Rule: how it will impact the games this season

The new NFL helmet rule

By now, all football fans have heard about this new NFL helmet rule the league instated. Based on the technology and advances in the medical field, it has come to light in recent years with how awful the effects of CTE can be, especially on former football players. In an effort to combat those issues, the NFL is trying to make the game safer, eliminating head injuries. They are installing a new “use of the helmet” rule in the attempt to make the game safer.

The description of the rule

The NFL sent out a “fact sheet” to help clarify the rule. According to the sheet, “it is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent. Contact does not have to be to an opponent’s head or neck area – lowering the head and initiating contact to an opponent’s torso, hips, and lower body is also a foul.”

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This means that no matter what, a player can not lead with their own head. Regardless of where the opponent is hit, a player can receive a penalty for leading with his own helmet. The rule continues on to mention that it will be easier to see this in the open field as opposed to on the line, but this rule applies ANYWHERE on the field at any time.

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The penalties for the rule

This foul carries a 15-yard penalty. And, if committed by the defense, an automatic first down. The player charged with the foul can also be ejected.

The player can be ejected if he “lowers [his] helmet to establish a linear body posture prior to initiating and making contact with the helmet”, has an unobstructed path to his opponent, or if the contact was clearly avoidable and there were other options available to the player delivering the hit.

Not only will this cause issues on the field, but teams are having discrepancies with players over contracts based on the new rule.

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How they plan to enforce the rule

The NFL is now placing a higher emphasis on stance, posture, and technique. There are several NFL folks who have helped create educational videos for ball carriers, offensive lines, defensive lines, linebackers, and defensive backs in order to help them avoid these penalties. Referees are also taking time to meet with teams during training camp in hopes of clarifying this new NFL helmet rule.

No longer is “use of the helmet” a rule typically enforced on the defense. Referees can call these penalties on the offense as well.

What will this change about the game?

So if a player can’t lead with his head AT ALL, that is going to change some things. How can a quarterback QB sneak without leading with his head? The QB sneak was a crucial part of the Eagles offense last year. It was crucial especially on fourth and one or less than one. No one was able to stop Carson Wentz’s 6-5 and 240-pound body behind the league’s best offensive line.  Each of those fourth down conversions made by Wentz involved him leading with his head. This rule could potentially eliminate a HUGE weapon in the Eagles offense.

For the defensive backs, it’s a matter of trying to hit a moving target. If Malcolm Jenkins is running to make an open field tackle, and a wide receiver makes a move at the last minute causing Jenkins to make contact with his own head first, how is that the safety’s fault? How can they penalize Jenkins in that situation?

Based on the conversation the referees had with the Eagles defense last week, these are questions the players and referees are still unable to answer.

What will the NFL look like this season?

Honestly, I’m not sure how they are going to completely and fairly enforce this rule. It’s worse than the catch rule. I get that they’re trying to eliminate injuries and protect the players, but it seems like this is another way to increase other kinds of injuries.

It’s football. There are going to be violent hits in football. Jenkins’s hit on Brandin Cooks in the Super Bowl was a violent hit, but it was clean. It was shoulder to shoulder contact. Cooks turned and didn’t see Jenkins coming. Can you imagine if the refs tossed Jenkins from the Super Bowl? Can you imagine if they tossed Wentz from four regular season games for QB-sneaking? Last season would have been TOTALLY different.

Right now the NFL helmet rule comes with a big question mark. How many flags will be thrown because of this rule? How many penalty yards will teams rack up due to the uncertainty? It will be interesting to see how this rule plays out during the season, especially because the refs also have questions. Who knows how much of an impact this will have on the outcome of this season.

Featured Image: Keith Allison via Flickr

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