Thursday night’s shades-of-Bountygate attack on Cam Newton by the Broncos included among other illegal hits a helmet-to-helmet blow initiated by Denver safety Darian Stewart. Since the game ended, a theory has emerged that the hit complied with the rules because Newton ducked his head, setting up the helmet-to-helmet contact.
Stewart acknowledged the theory with appreciation on anti-social media, and former NFL defensive back and brand-new ESPN employee Charles Woodson pushed the concept during a Sunday morning appearance on SportsCenter.
Here’s the problem with that interpretation of the rules. It’s an incorrect interpretation of the rules.
Defensive players still can’t hit passers with the helmet, even if it’s not a helmet-to-helmet blow. Stewart was going to strike Newton with a helmet somewhere on Newton’s body; wherever the contact happened, Stewart violated the rules that give passers added protection.
It’s one thing for fans to not know the rules. It’s quite another for the analysts employed by the NFL’s broadcast partners to disseminate inaccurate assessments of what is and isn’t allowed. In this case, it’s less on Woodson and more on the producers, who surely knew what Woodson planned to say — and who didn’t intervene to tell him that he was getting it flat wrong.
Still, the fact that Woodson didn’t know the rules despite playing in the NFL from 1998 through 2015 is alarming, and it invites speculation as to how many other players don’t know the rules.
Maybe they’re all getting their bad information from broadcast partners who aren’t ensuring that the right information is being provided.