NFL roster cuts: AFC | NFC

NFL Nation: 2013 NFL rules changes

NFL32: NFL passes new helmet rule

March, 20, 2013
3/20/13
9:59
PM ET

 
Suzy Kolber and Herm Edwards discuss how the new helmet rule could affect running backs; Todd McShay breaks down the upcoming NFL draft; and the NFL32 crew debates which free-agent pass-rusher will have the biggest impact on a new team.
The new helmet rule was approved at the NFL owners meeting. Offensive players will be flagged 15 yards next season for lowering the crown of their helmet into defenders in the open field.

Buffalo Bills running back Fred Jackson had an interesting take on the controversial rule. Jackson took his opinion to Twitter on Wednesday:



Jackson probably echoes the thought of a lot of offensive players. Defenders routinely dish out punishment, especially to running backs. Lowering your helmet is an instinctive move for protection and/or to run through tackles and get the tough yards. It seems difficult to suddenly take that instinct away from an offensive player.

The most interesting part of this rule will be how strictly it is officiated. The early response from players suggests it could be a difficult adjustment. If Jackson is any indication, expect some growing pains with the helmet rule this upcoming season.
PHOENIX -- Like a lot of NFL coaches, the Seattle Seahawks' Pete Carroll thinks officials will have a hard time enforcing a new rule banning ball carriers from initiating contact with the crowns of their helmets when outside the tackle box.

Carroll supports the rule anyway while acknowledging that his own running back, the exceedingly punishing Marshawn Lynch, might have to adjust some.

"It's a challenging proposal in that it's for the officials to determine whether there was intent," Carroll said Wednesday from the NFL owners meeting. "We feel as coaches that it’s going to be very challenging for those guys to call. But it’s a good move to teach football players of all levels how to not lead with their helmets."

Earlier in the week, St. Louis Rams coach and competition committee member Jeff Fisher joined vice president of officiating Dean Blandino in walking reporters through a video presentation on the rule. I raised the same point Carroll made about officials having to determine intent.

"We are not officiating intent," Blandino replied "We are looking for the lowering of the head and the delivering of the blow with the crown. We look at the helmet as four sides: there is the facemask, there [are] the sides, there is the hairline-forehead, which is just above the facemask, and then the crown. If you put a beanie on top of your head, that would be the crown there."

The league evaluated every play from every game of Week 16 last season. It found 34 cases of helmet-to-helmet collisions, five of them in violation of the new rules.

The rule applies only to collisions outside the tackle box, which extends 3 yards past the line of scrimmage between the offensive tackles.

"It's that play where two players are coming together like this and dropping their helmets where they make contact with the top crown of the helmet," Fisher said. "Basically, the best way to phrase this is we're bringing the shoulder back in the game. We all know the helmet is a protective device; it's not designed to be used like it's being used as of late and we want to protect our players, specifically out in space."

Carroll expects a sometimes bumpy transition period where made and missed calls will generate controversy. But he thinks the NFL's commitment to improving safety justifies the change.

"This is one of those areas that has been accepted for years and years and years in the league," Carroll said, "as a play that is just part of the game that we are going to try to affect."

As for Lynch?

"He's a mixture, a very unique talent in the way he plays," Carroll said. "But he is not a guy that definitely leads with his helmet all the time."
PHOENIX -- Before the discussion even began, Chicago Bears tailback Matt Forte used the word "absurd" to describe the NFL's plans to penalize running backs for hitting opponents with the crown of their helmets when running outside the tackle box. So I figured I would pass along Forte's sarcastic response to news that the rule passed, by near unanimous vote, Wednesday at the NFL owners meeting.

Via Forte's Twitter account: "Wow so they really passed that rule...last time I checked football was a contact sport. Calling bank now to set up my lowering the boom. Guess I'll get my fine money ready #loweringtheboomfund" Next year they'll probably be a no jumping over defenders rule... #loweringtheboomfund"

Forte has brought forth some genuine and legitimate concerns, and other NFC North players are voicing their concerns as well. Minnesota Vikings defensive end Brian Robison tweeted:
"Some of these rules are just ridiculous. Next rule proposal should be to change from NFL to NFFL #nationalflagfootballleague"

From Vikings safety Harrison Smith:
"Soon everyone will get a trophy for participation"

The NFL clearly hasn't been moved by player concerns, however. According to St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher, the co-chairman of the NFL's competition committee, the NFL re-watched all games from Week 16 last season and found five plays that would have been a penalty under the new rule. Player concern could decrease when the limited scope of the rule is revealed. But fair or not, right or wrong, players can expect a continued movement in this direction.
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Two rule changes were approved at the NFL owners meeting Wednesday and there's a couple of teams in the AFC North who aren't happy about it.

Owners voted 31-1 to approve the rule that penalizes players, namely running backs, who forcibly initiate contact with the crown of the helmet anywhere outside the tackle box. The only team to vote against it was the Cincinnati Bengals.

Bengals running backs coach Hue Jackson told the team's website before the vote that BenJarvus Green-Ellis is the type of power back who is going to be impacted heavily by the rule change.

"It’s going to be a hard rule to coach," Jackson said. "It's how these guys have run since Pop Warner. Using their head and shoulders is all they know. Especially on the goal line and short yardage."

It will now be a 15-yard penalty if a player who is more than 3 yards downfield or outside of the tackle box delivers a blow with the crown of his helmet. If both the offensive and defensive player lowers his head and uses the crown of the helmet to make contact, each will be penalized.

"It makes it very difficult to protect themselves," Jackson said, "and there'll be more fumbles."

Browns cornerback Joe Haden surprisingly sided with the running backs on this issue, posting on Twitter:

The other change is the abolishment of the tuck rule by a 29-1 vote. It's understandable that the Patriots (who benefited from the rule in a 2002 playoff game against the Raiders) and Redskins (whose general manager Bruce Allen was the Raiders' GM at the time) abstained.

But it was curious to see the Steelers were the only team to vote against getting rid of the tuck rule.

"We didn't think it was necessary to make that change," Steelers president Art Rooney said. "We were happy with the way it's been called."

The only other news was the tabling of a proposal on whether to open the regular season as early as Wednesday. The Super Bowl champion Ravens have a scheduling conflict on Thursday, Sept. 5, with the Orioles, who share downtown sports complex downtown, and Major League Baseball appears unwilling to move the time of the night game.
Closure?

Probably not.

Some wounds never heal. The events of Jan. 19, 2002, in snowy Foxborough, Mass., fall under that category in the Raider Nation. It was the inspiration for the tuck rule.

On Wednesday, more than 11 years later and in the heat of the Arizona desert, the NFL voted to make the tuck rule go away. Yes, for the Oakland Raiders it is 11 years too late. The team even tweeted as much last week when the rule change was proposed.

We all know the gory details. Late in the 2001 AFC divisional playoffs, New England quarterback Tom Brady appeared to fumble. But it was ruled a pass. Had Oakland been awarded the fumble, it would have would have gone to the AFC title game. Instead, the Patriots came back and won the game.

The sting is still felt in Oakland.

Now it is over. But so what? It doesn’t change history.

Meanwhile, I did find it interesting that New England owner Robert Kraft abstained from the vote.

His decision to abstain could be perceived to be a message to the Raiders. The late Al Davis was famous for abstaining from league votes. Had the legendary Davis still been alive, I’m sure he would have been the first owner in line to cast a ballot in this vote.
To no surprise, the NFL overwhelmingly voted to eliminate the tuck rule on Wednesday. It was a bad rule that prevented quarterback fumbles if a player has any kind of forward movement with his throwing arm, which included pump fakes.

NFL owners reportedly voted 29-1 to get rid of the tuck rule. But the New England Patriots, who took advantage of the rule in the 2001-02 playoffs to jumpstart their Super Bowl dynasty, were one of two teams to abstain from voting. New England owner Robert Kraft hinted as much earlier this week and decided to follow through.

Luckily for New England, eliminating the tuck rule is not retroactive. Who knows how the course of NFL history would have changed if New England, coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady did not win their first of three Super Bowls together.
PHOENIX -- Chicago Bears tailback Matt Forte called it "absurd." Leslie Frazier worried that his MVP running back would be subjected to an increasing number of hits to his knee. The NFC North generated as much opposition to the NFL's proposed crown-to-helmet penalty as any other division, but in the end -- as we discussed Sunday -- the nebulous "player safety" tag has once again carried the day.

All four NFC North teams voted for a rule that passed overwhelmingly Wednesday. Frazier and the Vikings produced a notable about-face; Frazier had reiterated concerns as recently as an hour before the vote, during the NFC coaches breakfast here at the NFL owners meeting. After the vote, however, Frazier said: "The overriding factor regarding player safety kind of overrode [our] concerns."

Look, we all know what happened here. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has made player safety a priority, both for the long-term health of players and the long-term viability of the game. Creating "safer" rules puts those efforts in writing and creates a paper trail, in both a practical and legal sense. I'm pretty sure the NFL doesn't want coaches or other employees publicly questioning its efforts to do so, regardless of the issues at play. The league is making a macro movement in spite of whatever micro issues it might cause.

The rule makes sense in the abstract -- a player shouldn't be allowed to, as the rule is worded, "deliver a blow with the top/crown of his helmet against an opponent" -- but there are practical ramifications that make you wonder how it will be enforced.

Forte noted that running backs naturally lower their shoulders to protect themselves from contact and to break tackles. As a result, the head lowers as well. Will officials recognize the difference between that and an intentional lowering of the head to initiate contact? Frazier wondered if defensive players would go low on tailback Adrian Peterson to avoid the 15-yard penalty of hitting his helmet with theirs.

In the end, those issues won't dissipate. We'll probably have some questionable calls to discuss this season. But go ahead and book it: Anytime a rule change is attached to "player safety," its chances of passing is excellent. It's a sign of our times.

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