Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier was neither flagged nor fined for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Bengals running back Gio Bernard in the wild-card round. NFL V.P. of officiating Dean Blandino has now explained that the outcome was the proper one.
As noted previously, the Bernard had caught the ball and became a runner before being hit by Shazier. Thus, Bernard wasn’t defenseless. Runners who aren’t defenseless can be hit in the helmet, and with the helmet.
Regarding the 2013 rule preventing hits with the crown of the helmet, Blandino explained in a weekly officiating video that the play lacked the key element of the player “lining up” the opponent. Blandino said that, because the players were moving at different angles, Shazier wasn’t able to “line up” Bernard.
But Blandino also said that the league wants to discourage the use of the top of the helmet, hinting that an expansion of the rule could be coming. For now, the rule as written was applied properly to Shazier — no foul, and no fine.