The new helmet rule was all the rage last month, when defenders were being flagged left and right during the preseason for lowering their head to initiate contact.
That died down in weeks three and four after the NFL took a look at the first batch of film and instructed officials on how to properly navigate the new rule, which was added to help cut down on head injuries.
The pattern carried into week one, which is to say it didn’t ruin any games. You might have seen the hit on Andrew Luck that resulted in an ejection, but ESPN cites a league spokesman explaining that the play, quote, “fell under the general classification of unnecessary roughness; Williams did not lower his helmet to initiate contact with Luck in the classic sense of the new rule.”
First ejection of the new helmet rule comes in the first quarter of the very first Sunday. pic.twitter.com/XFgEsXRZ2L
— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) September 9, 2018
Looks pretty clear-cut to me. Helmet rule or not, he tries to take the QB’s head off. That’s a penalty at any level under whatever set of rules.
The bigger problem on Sunday was something that nobody really talked about this summer, and that’s the new guideline that penalizes defenders for putting their body weight on a quarterback.
This play below was flagged:
"roughing the passer"
— paco (@AllaireMatt) September 9, 2018
Clean sack in my mind, but here’s how the new rule is written:
“A rushing defender is prohibited from committing such intimidating and punishing acts as “stuffing” a passer into the ground or unnecessarily wrestling or driving him down after the passer has thrown the ball … When tackling a passer who is in a defenseless posture (e.g., during or just after throwing a pass), a defensive player must not unnecessarily or violently throw him down and land on top of him with all or most of the defender’s weight. Instead, the defensive player must strive to wrap up the passer with the defensive player’s arms and not land on the passer.”
Alright, well, I think when you watch that clip above you can see Dunlap actually unwrap his arms and brace himself to hit the ground so that he’s not coming down with all of his force on top of Luck. That’s a distribution of weight, a cushioning of the fall, plus a roll to finish off the play.
Here’s what Dunlap told ESPN’s Katherine Terrell about the sequence:
“I planked and rolled off right away and I tried to let the referee know I was not trying to be malicious and drive him through the ground because I know it’s Andrew Luck after two years, so they’re going to call it tight regardless. So I tried to do the next best thing. There was no other way for me to try to avoid him on the front side so on the back side I tried to keep my weight from driving him into the ground, which is the terminology they used.”
Makes a lot of sense. I don’t know what else he can do there.
Another penalty under this new rule affected the Browns/Steelers result:
Roughing the passer call on Myles Garrett. Landed on Roethlisberger with his body weight. A fourth down stop turned into a touchdown the very next play. pic.twitter.com/fHGgRYTWSP
— Ollie Connolly (@OllieConnolly) September 9, 2018
It’s a bang-bang play. I’m not sure how he shifts his weight or avoids that. It’s like the NFL is asking these guys to bend the laws of time and space ala Benedict Cumberbatch in Doctor Strange.
And we didn’t talk much about it on Thursday night, maybe because one game didn’t give us proper context as to how rampant this penalty was going to be in week one, but the Falcons actually got flagged for it as one of the 26 infractions committed in the Eagles win:
I expect to see a TON of these calls this season pic.twitter.com/2q7DvDtiW7
— Prime Bam Childress (@fearthe_beard11) September 7, 2018
There were 14 roughing the passer penalties in week one of this season vs. seven roughing the passer penalties from the first week of 2017.
Hopefully the NFL circles back and looks at the film, instructs officials how to better judge these plays, and we get a more smooth interpretation of the rule in the same way that the helmet thing was addressed.