The introduction of the NFL’s new helmet rule was intended to make the game safer for players.
Instead, it’s causing mass confusion around the league and utter chaos on the field, with both officials and players struggling to come to terms with the parameters of the new guidelines on tackling and what actually constitutes for a penalty.
The rule penalises players for lowering their head to initiate contact with their helmet to any part of an opponent’s body, and whilst it is sometimes obvious when the head has been used as the primary body part with which contact is made, there is a huge grey area that is resulting in some frankly ridiculous officiating calls in the preseason.
Some of the penalties that have been called thus far are just baffling, and it’s becoming a huge concern for players and coaches alike that these botched calls could start affecting the outcomes of important games down the line.
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer is one of many who is dumbfounded by the new rule and how it’s being officiated, and he’s worried it could cost people their jobs come playoff time.
“It’s going to cost some people some jobs — playoffs, jobs, the whole bit I’m guessing,” Zimmer said Monday.
“We haven’t had any called on us so far. It’s just hard to figure out. No one has ever said to me, ‘Hey. Don’t worry about it, we’re going to call it less or we’ll get it straightened out in the regular season. Or we’re going to come up with a revised rule.’ No one has ever said that.”
The lack of communication from refereeing teams to coaches suggests a real absence of clarity from the officials themselves over how to call the rule, and that’s not a healthy place for the league to be in.
Zimmer even turned a play into the league from the Vikings game against the Jags last week in order to receive some clarity over why it was flagged.
In that instance Minnesota fullback C.J. Ham caught a pass before lowering his shoulder into A.J. Bouye.
Bouye appeared to lower his head to brace for the contact and as such Ham was,flagged for a 15-yard personal foul.
Even after requesting an explanation from the league for the penalty, Zimmer said he was no clearer on what constitutes a breach of the rule.
“Quite honestly, no. The one that they had called on them, the guys is tackling around his legs and he had his head to the side for the most part. I actually sent that in to ask them, ‘Why was this called?’ Then you see other places, because I go through the tape, and I’m saying, ‘I wonder if this is a penalty. I wonder if this is a penalty.’ I think it’s very hard to tackle a guy,” he said.
It’s worrying that even league officials couldn’t provide an explanation when directly quizzed on the matter by a coach, and even though a new ‘teaching video’ is supposedly on the way to help explain the basic principles of the rule it doesn’t seem like the confusion is going away anytime soon.
It’s safe to say the players aren’t happy about it either, particularly those on the defensive side of the ball who have been accustomed to tackling in one way their whole lives and now face uncertainty over what constitutes for a legal hit every time they engage contact.
Outspoken 49ers corner Richard Sherman has had his fair share to say on the matter, and he was joined by Ravens safety Eric Weddle in publicly criticising the rule change this past weekend.
Sherman makes a valid point about how tackling is officiated in rugby, and he’s right that many of the hits allowed in a rugby game would be flagged under today’s NFL rules.
Considering rugby players don’t have helmets on, that’s absurd.
Weddle chimed in with his complaints too, calling out the league for failing to even address the players when making such a far reaching rule change.
The new material the league is sending out to teams is yet to be released, but everyone will be hoping it sets the record straight and that officials take note of it too so that some kind of consistency exists from crew to crew in terms of how they call it.
If that fails to happen adequately, it’s only a matter of time before a baffling game altering call is made and an outpouring outrage will ensue.
As of now, this new helmet rule unfortunately looks to be another catch rule in the making, waiting for a defining moment to force the league to make a change to it.