It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen anything unite NFL players, coaches, and fans the way the enforcement of the new lowering the helmet rule and unnecessary roughness rule have done so far this preseason. In just about every preseason game so far, we’ve seen a defensive player flagged for “lowering his helmet” when leading in to make a tackle. The intent of this rule is, of course, player safety, but players are now livid that they are being penalized for making what was until recently a totally legal tackle. Some of the tackles that have been flagged look like picture perfect demonstrations of how to properly bring a guy down in the NFL.
Players have been extremely outspoken about the new rules and have taken to Twitter to express their displeasure. Possibly none more so than the oft outspoken Richard Sherman who tweeted, “To all those ppl including those who made the rule. I want a video of YOU running full speed and being lead by anything but your head while also attempting to bring down a moving target. You will soon realize it’s impossible.” He then followed that tweet up with, “There is no ‘make adjustment’ to the way you tackle. Even in a perfect form tackle the body is led by the head. The rule is idiotic And should be dismissed immediately. When you watch rugby players tackle they are still lead by their head. Will be flag football soon.”
I find myself in agreement with Sherman’s stance on these new rules. It’s nearly impossible, in many cases, to tackle a player the way the rule dictates now. If a player is coming at you with the ball, what exactly are you supposed to lead with to make the tackle if not your head? Defensive players are expected to use their shoulders, but if the offensive player ends up lowering his head at an angle, or tries to make a move, he’ll eventually make contact with the defensive player’s helmet first and then the tackle still draws a flag. There really isn’t much a defender can do.
If the rules are left unadjusted for the regular season, rest assured games will be ruined, and viewership will continue to drop. So far the rules have only affected preseason games where the score doesn’t matter, and players aren’t playing quite as hard as they will be in a couple of weeks. Imagine a divisional matchup with the game on the line, the defense is up three points with two minutes left. They manage to hold the offense to a fourth and long. The quarterback finds his guy ten yards deep but he’s tackled short of the first down marker and then BAM! Leading with the helmet penalty, 15 yards and a first down.
This rule is going to extend offensive drives more frequently than ever before, and offensive players are soon going to find ways to use it to their advantage. While the goal is to keep players safe, the reality of the rule changes we’ve seen over the past few seasons is that they are slowly eliminating defense as part of football. Defenders will have to relearn how to tackle according to the new definition of the rule, and in the process, tackles will either be missed, broken, or flagged.
Richard Sherman isn’t the only one voicing his displeasure with the new rule. Here are a few other disgruntled Tweets from unhappy players:
The fact that rule changes are made without the thought of asking the player who PLAY is baffling to me. Dumb dumb dumbbbbbb
— Eric Weddle (@weddlesbeard) August 19, 2018
These penalties are getting ridiculous. Tough to take someone to the ground without landing on them, whipping them down, grazing their head or hitting their legs. This is a tough game for tough people.
— Derek Wolfe (@Derek_Wolfe95) August 19, 2018
I’m glad I’m not playing right about now…might as well play flag football.🤦🏿♂️SMH https://t.co/juHTbvH9EA
— Charles Tillman (@peanuttillman) August 18, 2018
Man these rules in the NFL right now…I don’t get it
— Shawne Merriman (@shawnemerriman) August 18, 2018
On a more positive note, the rumors are that the refs were instructed to throw a flag for anything that might look questionable during the preseason, and then the enforcement would be adjusted before going into regular season games. This way, the officiating offices can go over dozens (or hundreds at this point) of plays under a microscope and determine which ones actually should have been called, and hopefully refine and redefine the wording of rules.
When the game starts being played at regular season speed, I have no doubt that these flags will fall at an increased rate and cause even more damage and disruption if nothing is done to pull them back. If that’s the case, we really might as well be playing flag football or two-hand touch.