The NFL’s intention in implementing a targeting rule is noble. We can’t complain the NFL doesn’t care enough about player safety, then criticize all their player safety rules.
Yet, we should prepare ourselves to be annoyed by it.
The NFL broadened a rule Tuesday, outlawing lowering the head to initiate contact, according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero and others. The reason is obvious. A player lowering his head to initiate contact with his helmet is dangerous, and the NFL wants to reduce concussions and neck injuries, like the one Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier suffered. There will be 15-yard penalties for violations. Also, note that in NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy’s tweet, offenders “may be disqualified.” That’s a key element.
Playing Rule Article 8: It is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent. The player may be disqualified. Applies to any player anywhere on the field. The player may be disqualified.
— Brian McCarthy (@NFLprguy) March 27, 2018
According to Albert Breer of NFL Network, the league will work to define the rule for what type of violation would cause ejections, and that will be presented at the May meeting. The plays could be reviewed by the central officiating office in New York.
The targeting rule in college football has been controversial, to say the least. There are plenty of ejections, as officials look at replays to determine intent. It slows the game down and often leaves fans unhappy with the rulings, and complaining about players being ejected due to an official’s interpretation of intent. It’s a rule designed to improve player safety, and that’s great. It’s also a constant source of criticism. On a day in which the NFL implemented a new catch rule, a rule that had grown so controversial it was overshadowing games, it introduced a rule that seems to frustrate college football fans every Saturday.
The new rule will be very difficult for NFL officials to enforce. Having the officiating office in New York watching might help, but that’s not foolproof. Officials on the field are watching a lot of different things, and the office in New York is usually monitoring multiple games at once. The NFL game moves fast and it will be hard for an official to determine in the moment whether a player lowered his head enough to trigger a penalty. Whether the rule leads to more game stoppages for replay reviews of hits, leads to ejections that are seemingly based on an officials’ interpretation of rules, or just more 15-yard penalties when there’s already too many defensive penalties, it’s easy to see how this could end up being a change that NFL fans dislike. Perhaps the NFL’s version of the rule will be implemented better than the college rule — that’s not a high bar to cross — but we’ll see.
RIP, frustrating and confusing NFL catch rule. Hello, NFL targeting rule.
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