Dunlap: Helmet Rule A Disaster

For a few reasons, NFL new rule doomed to fail

Colin Dunlap
August 23, 2018 - 1:48 pm

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

This is doomed to fail. It just isn't going to work. 

And you mark my words --- an NFL game will be decided in the early portion of the season, at least in part, because of this silly new helmet to helmet rule that's garnered so much attention and very few appear to fully understand. 

The NFL's heart might be in the right place, but they'll never be able to fully control where the head of the tackler is if they want to keep playing tackle football. It just isn't possible.

Now, try this one on for a scenario ... 

Let's say the Steelers are up by 4 points with five minutes to go against the Browns in the opening week. The Steelers just kicked a field goal to go up by those four points and the Browns got the ball back. They are scrambling down the field, the clock is now churning below the two-minute warning. Here we are now, the clock at just over a minute and the Browns, somehow, have pushed the football to the Steelers' 25. It's third-and-9 as the Steelers' defense has finally showed some muscle on this drive. The Browns are now out of timeouts and are in scramble mode. 

Here comes the play, an underneath route. A completion. He's going to be short of the sticks. A gain of only 4 yards to the 21.

But wait.

What's the flag for? That looked like an innocuous enough play by Joe Haden as he swooped in and made the play from the edge. 

Huh? A helmet to helmet call? You gotta be kidding me. First down. Live to play another play. And, two plays later after a completion to the 2 where the Browns get out of bounds, they punch it in from short yardage. 

Game over. Steelers come back on the Turnpike as losers, Pittsburgh is devastated. 

We watch the replay again and again (and 5 million more times) and see Haden's head came in contact with the receiver the way it had so many times in past seasons. He simply drove through him and it was a clashing of heads as two men were jockeying for that same place in space. Only this year, it's a flag. Only this year, it cost the Steelers a game. 

You don't think that could happen? I'm here to tell you it could. And I'm here to tell you it will --- maybe not to the Steelers or in the exact scenario that I present, but this boondoggle rule will greatly impact an early-season game and have loyal fans of some team in an uproar. 

On Wednesday, the NFL announced there will be one subtle change to the rule. The officials won't throw a flag for any contact that is deemed incidental. So there we have it, another layer of subjectivity; another case of officials trying to judge intent and, in this instance, doing it while a player is potentially moving briskly through the air. 

This is a disaster before it even gets off the ground. The NFL, in an effort to keep players safe or avoid future lawsuits --- and, truthfully probably both --- has created a much bigger problem than they ever had in the first place. Now, the integrity of the game comes into question and one of the pillar plays (a simple tackle) is up for interpretation. 

You want to know what the real truth in all of this is? Well, I'll give it to you: When men are this big, strong and fast and play a game where part of the objective is to crash into one another, you are never going to make it safe. It is never going to be an endeavor in which there isn't an ambulance parked next to the field for good reason. So, all that said, they can flag all they want or implement this ridiculous rule all they want and I'll guarantee you something else: Injuries won't go down in the league this season. And I bet head injuries don't see a downturn, either. 

This is all window dressing. This is all a charade. The only true way for the NFL to accomplish what they think they want to accomplish at this point is to play flag football. That's kind of where it would have to go.

Otherwise, you're just going to have a bunch of confused people not knowing what the rules are watching a bunch of confused players still hitting each other in the head and then getting mad flags are thrown. 

That's what's going to happen this season.