There are many Steelers/NFL-related topics that are very controversial to write about these days.
Examples include the ongoing National (
censored) controversy; the ongoing training camp holdout of running back Le’Veon ( censored); and the NFL Catch bleeping, bleep, bleep, bleep.
And now with the 2018 preseason officially underway after the annual Hall of Fame Game between the Bears and Ravens last week, we have another controversial topic that will surely take up bandwidth and airtime across this great land of ours this entire football season:
The NFL’s new (or is it new emphasis on an old rule?) Helmet Rule and hits to the head in general.
While this seems like a controversial subject, it really shouldn’t be, well, not until your favorite football team is affected by it, that is.
I can see it now: The Steelers are taking on the Patriots at Heinz Field this December in yet another important Week-15 match-up that will sway the AFC’s postseason fate one way or another. With mere minutes remaining, Tom Brady drops back to pass on 4th-and-10, only to be mercilessly taken to the turf by a hard-charging Cam Heyward. Yes! The Steelers finally defeat the Patriots and procure the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage in the process.
But wait...there’s a flag. That’s right, Heyward is called for lowering his helmet before sacking Brady, even though the many replays clearly show that the decorated defensive lineman used proper technique and only made incidental contact with his face-mask in the process of taking Brady to the turf.
Brady takes advantage of this dubious penalty by driving his offense downfield for the game-winning (and AFC playoff picture-altering) score.
And I break more things in my apartment.
Anyway, Al Riveron spends the next several days telling us why it actually was a foul, while the rest of America tells Al Riveron that he’s a horse’s (
Yes, if Thursday night’s preseason kickoff vs. the Steelers and Eagles was any indication (the rule was enforced several times and created a lot of confusion during and after the game), there could be many such occurrences throughout the NFL in 2018.
It seems inevitable the league will go through some growing pains while trying to make the helmet less a part of the tackle and more a device to protect its players.
As a long-time football fan, I think I might be okay with some frustrating moments (well, maybe not the fictional one I described above) provided that it leads to a safer game.
Speaking of frustrations, I think a lot of fans are misguided when they vent about the NFL becoming less of a physical sport.
Football can still be a super-physical sport without people using their helmets as weapons to hit other people.
Like everything else in football, if you use proper technique while tackling, blocking or, in the case of a skill-position player, engaging a would-be tackler, you should be able to get the job done in most cases.
The NFL released a Fact Sheet recently detailing the Helmet Rule, what the officials will be looking for and how it will be called.
Included in the Fact Sheet are a series of instructional videos conducted by several NFL coaches who break down proper and improper blocking, hitting and tackling techniques by offensive linemen, defensive linemen, linebackers, defensive backs and even ball carriers.
While these coaches all stress things such as keeping your knees bent, pads low and face up, they repeat over and over again the importance of football players not leading with the crown of their helmets, not lowering their heads to take on opposing players.
If you watch the linebacker portion of these videos, you’ll see a play where Ryan Shazier leads with his helmet as he tackles an opposing Browns player in Week-1 of last season--this play drew a 15-yard penalty.
Knowing what we now know about Shazier’s quality of life being put in great jeopardy last December 4 at Paul Brown Stadium in a Monday night game against the Bengals, watching that play from earlier in the season is quite chilling.
Speaking of topics, it seems like the NFL loses no matter which direction it tries to go these days (for example, the National (
censored) controversy), and I guess the same can be said about the Helmet Rule and trying to eliminate head shots in general.
Some people tune out because they’re appalled by the sport’s brutality, brutality that has claimed many victims due to the league’s once nonchalant attitude towards concussions and the neurological effects of repeated head shots.
Other people tune out because they think rules aimed at making football safer have made it less watchable.
I guess some battles you just can’t win, but the NFL shouldn’t stop trying to win the war on making its sport as safe as possible.
I’ve heard it said many times that football would be safer if you just eliminated the helmet. Maybe that’s true, but if you’re admitting you could safely play tackle football without a helmet, you’re admitting there’s a proper and safe way to tackle someone while wearing a helmet.
Therefore, the techniques that have always been taught and reinforced at every level of football from Pop Warner to the pros are sound techniques that can be applied on just about every play, while maintaining the physical spirit of the sport. And in those cases where they haven’t been taught and reinforced, the coaches responsible have failed their players.
The Helmet Rule will likely be a frustrating one in 2018 as the league works out the bugs, but if this ensures we’ll still have football in 2038, it’ll be worth it.