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NFL’s no-lowering-your-head rule will be annoying (John Steigerwald)

Boy, is the NFL’s new no-lowering-your-head rule going to be annoying.

I try to watch as little NFL Exhibition football as possible but, in the first full week of games, I’ve already been exposed to dumb penalties called on what looked like routine contact.

Are you ready for the wording of the rule?

“It is a foul if a runner or tackler initiates forcible contact by delivering a blow with the top/crown of his helmet against an opponent when both players are clearly outside the tackle box. (An area extending from three yards beyond the line of scrimmage to the offensive team’s end line.). Incidental contact by the helmet of a runner or a tackler shall not be a foul. Note: The tackle box no longer exists once the ball leaves the tackle box.”

How would you like to be in charge of enforcing that rule?

Let’s break it down:

“Forcible contact?” What’s forcible? Would you like to have a game hanging in the balance based on your definition of forcible?

“Clearly outside the tackle box?” Clearly? Do you think a coach whose player is penalized could claim that his player was clearly not outside the tackle box when he lowered his head?

“Incidental contact” shall not be a foul? In the last minute of a game, would you like to be the official trying to decide — in real time — if two heads colliding was incidental? Picture a runner and a tackler colliding on a run outside the tackle box near the goal line. Is an official going to throw a flag if the runner lowers his head and scores what would be the winning touchdown? How about throwing a flag after a defender comes up and makes a game saving tackle that looks like a tackle you’ve seen a thousand times? Keep in mind that some of these calls could lead to an ejection. With any major rule change you can expect a major increase in the number of penalty flags flying, but the difference with this one is that virtually every one will be subject to interpretation. And there is no way that humans can be expected to interpret this rule uniformly.

It’s going to be similar to a pitcher learning an umpire’s strike zone and adapting to it. Players will have to learn what they can get away with depending on which officiating crew is assigned to their game.

Steelers fans are well aware of how stupid, unenforceable rules can ruin a game or a season. The Jesse James non-catch against the Patriots last season will live in infamy.

This new rule is well-intentioned but it’s not going to make watching an NFL game more fun. It might cut down on players’ concussions but it’s going to give the NFL a lot of headaches.

-Maybe the A7FL is the future of pro football. It’s a football league made up of 16 seven-man teams. No pads. No helmets. It’s former college players playing real football. They play in the Spring. The league is involved in a study now with the New Jersey Institute of Technology to study the league’s claims that playing without pads is actually safer than playing with them. Players have to wrap up when making a tackle. Tackling with your head down or throwing yourself at a runner will get you a 15-yard penalty. Runners are not allowed to lower their heads into a tackler. Sounds like the 2018 NFL, doesn’t it? It’s a lot easier to enforce in the A7FL because the players aren’t wearing weaponized equipment.

There have been way too many penalties in the NFL for a long time and the new rule is going to have a lot more flags flying. Maybe enough to make watching A7FL more fun.


By John Steigerwald For the Herald-Standard Aug 12, 2018,

April 19, 2020

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