The NFL passed a slew of rule changes at the owners meetings this week. The first rule change was the elimination of peel back blocks, and then there was the removal of the infamous Tuck Rule, which nobody really argued with. Lastly, the controversial rule change: the NFL has decreed that offensive players cannot use their helmet as a weapon.
In other words, running backs can't charge into defensive players with their helmets looking like spears. It's been met with heavy resistance and a lot of controversy, but that's easy to understand. It's not necessarily a bad rule, but it could be one that is tough to call in real time for referees. We already see the referees messing up helmet-to-helmet calls, as the game is just too fast. How will this one be called?
That's a concern that's echoed by Danny Kelly of Field Gulls below:
Off the top of my head, I can only think of a few instances (actually, I can't think of any, to be honest) where any of these players have legitimately led with the crown of their helmet and used their head as a weapon. That said, I can think of many instances where big collisions have happened between Lynch, Turbin, and Robinson, where it's certainly conceivable that a ref, in real-time, will perceive the crown-rule being broken. All I can say now is that it will be interesting to see how they call it.
Dave Choate over at The Falcoholic thinks that the changes are generally for the better, offering up few concerns:
Obviously, no one wants to see the game of football as we know it evaporate, turning into flag football. But the great Jim Brown noted he never used his helmet back in his day, and those are the days the nostalgic pine for in the first place. You're not removing a slice of ancient football history here, just hopefully a step toward safer football that shouldn't damage the integrity of the game at all.
Brett Kollmann of Battle Red Blog isn't a fan of the move, as a fan of a team that runs the ball frequently, however:
This rule has the potential for a lot of growing pains, and as a fan of a team that runs the ball at every possible opportunity, I'm not looking forward to it. Good for the league for trying to make the game safer, but I sometimes question if putting that responsibility in the hands of subjective referees is the right way to do that.
That's similar to other views expressed -- it's a bit more hard-line, but still a legitimate concern at this point. At the end of the day though, the league needs to become safer, or rather, that's what Roger Goodell will continue to push for, as noted by Evan Western of Acme Packing Company:
Ultimately, the league absolutely needs to continue to improve the safety of its players, and it seems that the only way to do so is to legislate the conduct of the players on the field by applying penalties and sanctions. Without continuing efforts to improve the safety of the players, the league would most likely find itself in a dire situation with the slew of former players ending up with brain trauma.
Still, if safety is the issue then there's still one big elephant in the room: it might not be that safe for the position in question, the running backs. We'll finish off with this quote below from Eric Thompson of the Daily Norseman.
One of the first things runners are taught in all levels of football is to get their pads low. It gives runners leverage, helps them protect the ball, and... wait for it... it protects them from getting hurt. It's widely believed that running backs who run straight up and down instead of leaning forward to get leverage are much more susceptible to big hits, fumbles, and injuries.
Even if you believe that the crown of the helmet rule will make the game safer, there's another major flaw with the rule change: it fundamentally changes how the game is played.