Let’s play a game.
It’s called, “penalty, or not a penalty?”
We’re talking about the new NFL policy which bars players from lowering their helmet to strike an opponent. The new rule comes with a 15 yard penalty and can be paired with an ejection based on these standards:
- Player lowers his helmet to establish a linear body posture prior to initiating and making contact with the helmet
- Unobstructed path to his opponent
- Contact clearly avoidable and player delivering the blow had other options
We now have a decent sample size of plays to look at after one week of preseason games, so let’s go through social media and see what we can find, starting with this hit from Cardinals safety Travell Dixon:
— uSTADIUM (@uSTADIUM) August 12, 2018
Looks pretty fair to me. I don’t see him lowering the helmet and establishing “a linear body position.” It looks like a textbook tackle, as the tweeter explains.
It’s hard to get good still shots at the point of contact, since the motion makes the image very blurry, but here’s what I was able to clip:
Yeah, I mean, it looks to me like he tries to keep his head up as he’s coming through on that tackle.
The Hall of Fame game between the Bears and Ravens contained four plays where flags came out for the new rule.
Here’s the clip:
I counted four Use of Helmet/Unnecessary Roughness-type penalties from the HOF game between the Raves and Bears. I'll let you be the judge of them, but all I can say is that you should expect A LOT of penalties this season pic.twitter.com/lk93rNCyPT
— Jimmy Norkewicz (@ZOMGitzjimmy) August 3, 2018
Any issue with those? I think the first two were pretty clear cases, while the third and fourth were a little iffy. Especially on the third play, when the receiver is above the defender, I’m not sure how else he can launch himself upward without leading with his helmet in some way, shape, or form.
But here are the stills from the point of contact:
I think the upper body position in stills 1 and 2 looks more questionable than in images 3 and 4.
Here’s another example, where a running back lowers his head and gets low to avoid having his legs cut out from under him. That results in the safety coming in low with the helmet for a penalty:
So this is the exact situation I was worried about when the new helmet rule came out. RB lowering himself to protect his legs. The safety isn’t trying to hit the back in the helmet. Not sure how else you’re supposed to tackle here. https://t.co/1jvLSO60bY
— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) August 11, 2018
Schwartz, a former NFL offensive lineman, is right. It’s really impossible for the safety to adjust or change what he’s doing in that scenario.
Here’s the still:
I have a feeling that we’re going to see a lot of those types of moments this season.
Another example –
If you watched the Birds play the Steelers the other night, you saw Sidney Jones become the first Eagle to get popped for 15 yards under the new rules.
He was flagged for lowering his head on this play in the second quarter:
OMG This is helmet rule is gonna be annoying AF pic.twitter.com/0GgfhY4JjM
— Gayle Saunders (@EagleSessions) August 10, 2018
“You have to see what you hit.”
Yeah, Mike Mayock is right. Jones doesn’t have to lower his helmet there, he has “other options,” and Rasul Douglas already has the guy wrapped up anyway.
Let’s do one more, a clip pulled by NFL analytics guy Warren Sharp.
In this play below, you see four different instances of lowering the helmet – two from the offense and two from the defense, yet no penalty flags were thrown:
What new lowering the helmet rule? Literally 4 players in succession lower helmets to initiate contact. Should have been multiple offsetting penalties. No flags were thrown. pic.twitter.com/2OABuceh8L
— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) August 10, 2018
Here’s who could have been penalized on that play:
The pulling lineman and initial defender –
Two penalties right there, yeah?
And how about the running back and the second defender? –
Two more penalties? Yes? No?
So we really should have four penalties total, which offset and give us a replay of down.
My first thought from watching the opening batch of preseason games is that the arbitrary nature of refereeing is going to be an issue here. Officiating units might call the penalty in different ways until there’s more experience with the new rule. Tackling might not change until players get used to it.
Either way, it looks like an unmitigated disaster so far.