IRVING, Texas – Player safety continues to be emphasized in the NFL, as evidenced by the decisions made at the NFL Owners Meetings in Arizona last week.
Among the approved rule changes, and the most controversial of them all, is the decision to penalize ball carriers or tacklers who lower the crown of their helmets to initiate contact and deliver a blow outside the tackle box or at least three yards downfield.
Before the vote was finalized, the majority of coaches’ questions revolved around how the rule would be officiated. Head coach Jason Garrett said the league has done well the last few years valuing the health and safety of the players and emphasizing the importance of getting the shoulder back in the game.
He said the rule changes have positively altered how players play, and he sees the crown of the helmet rule as another attempt to do that. Still, he realizes the difficulties it can create from an official’s standpoint.
“All the things that go into making those snap judgments, they’re difficult, and I think that’s the real concern that the coaches might have, is simply that,” Garrett said. “It’s a hard rule to officiate, and far be it from us to say we understand what an official’s going through, but the game does happen fast, those collisions happen quickly. I think it’s well-intended.”
Some former NFL running backs voiced their opinions against the rule change, including Emmitt Smith, but executive vice president Stephen Jones argued that no coach would tell a player to put the crown of his helmet down to deliver a shot. Jones said he understands why initially people will hear the rule and criticize it.
“Then they see what the league is talking about in terms of really being in the open field and really dropping that head and using your head as a weapon,” Jones said.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said the league wants to take ugly plays out of the game that will jeopardize players’ careers, and he understands the value of that.
“I think the discussion is how do we legislate it, how do we move about it,” he said. “I think that’s one of the things you talk about here at the league meetings.
“I’m interested in more discussion, to be honest with you. I think that’s the charge. I think that it’s easy to say that we want to eliminate those types of plays from the game, for obvious reasons. But at the same time, I think the discussion lies on how we do that.”
Rams coach Jeff Fisher, who’s a part of the league’s competition committee, showed clips at the NFL Owners Meetings of collisions that would be approved and others that wouldn’t be approved with the new rule change, which will result in a 15-yard penalty from the spot of the foul.
The emphasis stayed on getting the shoulder back in the game for offensive and defensive players. For a hit to be penalized, it has to be an obvious example of a player ducking down his head and using the crown of the helmet to deliver a blow, because the penalty isn’t reviewable. Five instances were recognized in Week 16 that would have been considered illegal.
“It’s something that I think as the NFL, what we’re always trying to do is improve the safety of the game,” said Chargers coach Mike McCoy. “That’s what the most important thing is, the safety of the players.”
Other rule changes included the elimination of peel-back blocks, overloaded kick formations and the tuck rule. The league also fixed the rule that prevented officials from reviewing plays when coaches challenge a play that’s automatically reviewed in the booth. The team will still be penalized, but the play will be reviewed.