The NFL attempted to clean up their rule regarding helmet contact, but their explanation only made the rule murkier and more difficult to explain in real time. According to Pro Football Talk, the NFL is adding a provision to the rule that will eliminate fouls for incidental contact.
The goal here isn’t that difficult to comprehend: they want to eliminate the excessively violent head-to-head collisions that are intentional, while taking away some of the grey area created by the new rule.
Getting rid of the plays where players are using their helmets as battering rams is good for the overall safety of the game. However, the NFL is struggling to detail exactly how that rule will be enforced during live action. Again.
The update is supposed to eliminate some of the ambiguity with unnecessary roughness fouls. The league doesn’t want players getting fouled for contact that wasn’t malicious or intentional. Essentially this new rule is just making sure players don’t use their helmets in illegal ways to take down opponents without calling every single potential contact foul.
The logic here makes sense. Penalties can really bog downs NFL games. They slow down the pace of the game and when overzealous officials are paired with incessant commercial breaks, NFL games can be a bit of a drag to sit through.
To the NFL’s credit, incidental contact doesn’t need to be called. If an offensive lineman is blocking a defender and his hands accidentally make contact with the helmet, there’s no real need to stop the game. If a defender aims low for a tackle and the ballcarrier goes low as well, the game doesn’t need to come to a halt. Incidental violence is always going to be intertwined with the game.
The issue is going to be each referee deciding what is or isn’t worthy of a penalty in real time. Deciphering intent is becoming increasingly more difficult as players get bigger, faster, and stronger.
Officials have shown in the past that there isn’t really a standard when it comes to calling fouls. Different crews have different tendencies. So there are still likely to be annoying penalty calls that draw the ire of the fanbase and team afflicted by the loss of yardage.
But that’s all a part of it, right?