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Friday open thread: Will the new helmet contact rule be a problem in 2018?

We saw the first enforcement of the league’s new tackling rule on Thursday.

New Orleans Saints v Green Bay Packers Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

It didn’t take long for the NFL’s new rule regarding contact to the head to make some waves. Less than five minutes into the preseason opener between the Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens, a flag was thrown on Ravens linebacker Patrick Onwuasor for unnecessary roughness, use of the helmet.

The call itself appeared to be fairly straightforward. The Bears running back, Bennie Cunningham, had already seen his forward progress stopped, then Onwuasor came in and dove helmet first at him, causing helmet-to-helmet contact. Though there was helmet-on-helmet contact, a foul would have occurred regardless, as the rule states (emphasis added) “it is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent. Contact does not have to be to an opponent’s head or neck area.”

What’s interesting about the infraction is that it comes with a possible ejection, but it’s still unclear what the requirements would be for an ejection. Onwuasor was not kicked out of the game, but the penalty caused Baltimore 15 yards, and the Bears would score four plays later.

This penalty was called on more time during the game and, as expected, many fans were not happy about it. Some believe it will be too hard to call correctly in real time, some believe they’re asking too much of a defender that has to make a microsecond decision, while others are just mad that they’re trying to take the physicalness out of football.

So today’s Question of the Day is:

Do you think the new helmet tackling rule will be a problem in 2018?

My answer: I do think it’ll be a problem, but probably not as bad as many think. Any time the league adds a new rule like this, there tends to be a lot of calls during the preseason. Recall a few years ago when the NFL decided to crack down on illegal contract from defensive backs. The preseason was a flag-happy disaster. While illegal contact infractures were still up from the previous year, they weren’t nearly as prevalent as they were in the preseason.

That being said, I have some serious problems with the rule and its enforcement. I do think they’re asking a bit much of defenders, who have always been taught that “the low man wins.” In order to get low, you have to bend the knees and lower the shoulders. Considering your neck is attached to your shoulders, your head is automatically going to go down. And when there’s a split-second collision to be had, you may be trying to lead with a shoulder or chest, but helmet contact happens anyways.

Then there’s the ejection aspect. I am not a firm believer of “you’ll know it when you see it” enforcement to a rule. If you don’t make it black and white in the rulebook, you’re going to get inconsistent enforcement from officials. I know it’s not exactly easy to write up something so distinctive when it comes to how egregious an offense is, but it doesn’t appear the NFL even tried. I don’t know how they expect any sort of consistency from refs.

But it’s all still very early. Obviously fans are sensitive about the game they love so much, and I understand how this rule may appear to be a threat to that. I appreciate the league’s efforts to make the sport safer for its players while trying not to change the game itself too much. However, I just don’t think this accomplishes that goal the way the rule looks right now.

Your turn.


Will the new lowering-the-helmet rule be a problem in 2018?

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