NFL may prevent runners from lowering their heads into tacklers

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In another sign that the days of punishing, physical running backs like Jim Brown and John Riggins are coming to an end, the NFL is considering a rules change that would penalize runners for lowering their heads and initiating contact with tacklers.

Members of the NFL’s Competition Committee revealed today that they want to see a new rule that would make it a personal foul for either a runner or a tackler to engage in head-first contact with the crown of the helmet when running into each other outside the tackle box.

“This is a pure and simple player safety rule,” NFL Competition Committee Chair Rich McKay said. “We really think the time has come where we need to address the situation in space where a runner or a tackler has a choice of how to approach his opponent.”

McKay said there was no one specific play that made the Committee propose this rule change, and he said that the play that was viewed by many as the most violent example of a helmet-to-helmet hit in the NFL all season — Bernard Pollard’s collision with Stevan Ridley in the AFC Championship Game — would not have been a penalty because neither player was directly leading with the crown of his helmet.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher, a member of the Competition Committee, said he believes coaches will be able to properly instruct their players in how to adjust to this rule.

“The ballcarrier is still going to be permitted to lower his shoulder, and the head is also going to come down to protect the football,” Fisher said. “We’re not taking that part of the run out of the game. What we’re saying is, in space, one-on-one, head-up, we’re not going to allow you to load up and use the crown of your helmet. It’s an obvious thing.”

It’s obvious that each year, the NFL’s Competition Committee is going to try a little bit harder to take us closer to a time when helmet-to-helmet hits are removed from the game completely.

131 responses to “NFL may prevent runners from lowering their heads into tacklers

  1. As a Vikings fan this makes me happy and sad. While I love seeing AP run into a defender like an enraged bull, I can’t help but cringe at the thought of his neck snapping one day.

  2. People are going to complain but I see this as on obvious step to improve safety. It’s not hard to see how putting the full force of two people colliding all onto the head and neck can be extremely dangerous.

  3. After these clowns get through neutering the game they will need to rename it to something else, because it will no longer be FOOTBALL.

  4. Where does this stop?

    You can’t eliminate ALL risk from the game, and while no one likes to see injuries, this is just taking it too far.

    You can’t tackle, run, block, etc… anymore and injuries are still happening at a high rate.

    How do you play the game like this?

    Doesn’t anyone who actually played the game remember what happens when you run with your “ears pinned back?”

    (Hint: You get freakin’ cracked!)

  5. Ug they should change these rule change announcements to sometime long before or long after FA/Draft, not right in the middle of FA – all of the fun news we’re hearing gets us pumped up, then these horrible “safety” rules come along to dash enthousiasm for what’s left of the game of football.

  6. Of course here come the flag football jokes..

    It’s a human safety issue here, folks. Hands down, simple as that.

    The way to initiate change, especially with neck injuries and concussions, is to change the way that everyone SEES the game played.

    I’m just glad to see that for once, a rule will change for the good of the DEFENSE.

    I think it’s a good change, and will eventually help and lead the way for change. No one wants to see someone break a neck or shatter a vertebrae. Especially when they could be a younger kid.

    Listen, I’m not some sort of pansy, wuss. But guys, we’re ultimately talking about PEOPLE here. Everyone is so quick to take the human element out of the game.

  7. Stop ruining the game of Football! How about remove all the stupid rules that have been added since Goodell became commissioner. Idiots!

  8. Unbelievable. In 15 years, the league is going to be unwatchable. I’m gonna get my son to play rugby. Rugby players at least can play rugby.

  9. Now that’s just dumb! so now they want players to just take direct shots? What’s next? No Stiff arms?

  10. What’s next, going into the players’ homes and putting safety plugs in the outlets? Padding on the “sharp” edges of corners? Gates in front of stairs?

    This is like NASCAR saying they need to implement a speed limit for driver safety. “No one goes past 60 mph! Studies show it is much safer than the 200 mph we’re used to.”

  11. If you want to stop helmet to helmet collisions on both sides of the ball, remove the helmets from the game. Or go back to wearing leather helmets. I guarantee you won’t see any more of these violent hits when it’s skull to skull.

  12. The mitigation against the former NFL Players’ concussion Law Suit against the NFL makes another appearance.

  13. So, you can lower your shoulder and you can drop your head to protect the ball, but you can’t initiate contact with the crown of your helmet? I’ve always said the rules needed to be more arbitrary and allow the refs more judgement calls over intent.

  14. i havent been that against any of the rules made so far, but this really is starting to put me over the edge. just let them play!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  15. Better yet, give each player a pair of 40 pound soft boxing gloves—enclose them in cotton balls—have them meet at midfield–duke it out for the 60 minutes—and the last last man standing’s team wins the game.

  16. New rule: No longer allowed to run the ball. Once receiver catches the ball you must fall to the ground. Also defender is permitted to be within 10yards of QB or WR. Only 5 defenders on the field with no substitution.

  17. Good comment thus far. I bet they are also going to look into giving everybody a mini lombardi trophy and a ring

  18. No, I’m seriously depressed now.

    Maybe if we all support some upstart league and bring the money over there the talented players will follow and we can leave these jokers currently in charge of the NFL to keep running their brand into the ground.

    How are backs even going to fight for extra yardage standing straight up?

    This will cause more injuries than it will prevent.

    If you stand straight up and give some of these LB’s and Safeties a nice, clean shot at your chest, then you are finished.

    Not only that, how many forearms are going to explode when people try to “brace” themselves?

    Just sickening.

  19. Rule was suggested by Green Bay defenders. Scared of always facing AP twice a year.

  20. Poor Adrian Peterson. This bull rush is a specialty of his. Why do they insist on ruing the game of football?

  21. fisher must be drinking too much of Goodell’s coolaid. this rule is insane. another step in destroying the game. the nfl is going to protect itself from lawsuits, but ruin their product in the process. The owners and Roger are compromising the integrity of the game. it is a violent game. them men who play it are aware of the risk. stop trying to protect people from themselves.

  22. People who have never played the game are ruining sports, football and hockey in particular. Football is turning into touch because outsiders don’t like hard hits and have become concerned with the safety of men they don’t actually care about. Concussion talk is selling magazines and getting website hits I guess. Leave the future of the game in the hands of players of the past and present, not some ESPN analyst or doctor who CNN pays for an interview.

  23. Might as well make it illegal for the offense to hit, too. It’s only fair to the defense.

    You should also fine a WR every time they make a catch because a DB pulled up instead of hitting them.

  24. This rule actually makes sense to me: keep your head up. This doesn’t mean you can’t get low, it just means you can’t drop your head to spear your way through.

    I was always coached to play that way in high school, both on offense and on defense. It’s a rather simple concept: keep your head up at all times, hit shoulder first. If you do hit helmet first, it will be with the facemask, and then you slide the contact point over to either shoulder. There are many teams we played where players were obviously taught to spear with the helmet, and I always thought those players were gutless.

    Anybody who thinks that one “natutrally drops the head” in anticipation of contact is either misinterpreting the proposed rule change, or has never played running back.

    In any case, it is consistent with other rules changes already in effect. Defensive players aren’t the only ones who can use the helmet as a weapon.

  25. First thing kill all the lawyers.

    Then these ridiculous lawsuits from players who damn well knew the risks will go away and the league can go back to real football.

    If most of these players weren’t so pathetically stupid in the way they handled their money and actually saved a couple million to live on after the nfl they wouldn’t need to chase the league for lawsuit money. Instead they take out loans to buy 300k birthday parties for themselves and similar idiocy.

  26. People lower their heads naturally to protect their necks. This is garbage. There are too many flags and interruptions as it is. When did Willow Treebeard and the hippies take over the competition committee?

  27. sportsfanjay says: Mar 14, 2013 3:49 PM

    Unbelievable. In 15 years, the league is going to be unwatchable. I’m gonna get my son to play rugby. Rugby players at least can play rugby.

    You are right. In my country of France, we play rugby without hardly any protection and there are not the amount of injuries one has in football. Also isn’t it natural to duck on an impact? I think it is a reflex, how can Commissioner Goodell stop a reflex? Is he trying to alter the nervous systems of the players? Also, football is meant to,be rugged.

  28. the NFL is about making money, not furthering the game of football. positioning for law suits defense is what these new rules are about. NFL rightfully assumes that fans will continue to watch games and the league will continue to be very popular and get mega TV deals and sell merchandise and tickets, and not lose the law suits coming.

    NFL does not care if its fans like rule changes because it knows those fans will watch the games and buy tickets and merchandise anyways. There is thus no risk whatsoever in changing rules in order to pretend safety is big issue for league and its doing all it can to prevent injuries (for law suits defense).

  29. Before you know it football will just be people easier filming a group of 4 “coaches” sitting around playing madden. Of course they will switch off after every quarter to avoid carpal tunnel of course. It’s impossible to get rid of the risks involved in football that’s why these players get paid the multimillion dollar salaries. It’s why the cba provides for ongoing health care after the game.

  30. In related news, the NFL plans to ban “blinking” when someone claps their hands right in front of your face.

  31. Like everything else in the United States, Lawyers are ruining the NFL and making it more expensive in the meantime……..

  32. These new rules are in place to avoid injuries, you guys!……….and by “injuries” I mean “lawsuits”.

  33. Might as well mandate players to slide feet first like QBs.

    Wouldn’t it cause more injury if they stayed up instead of ducking lower to the ground? But I guess it all goes back to the multi-million dollar concussion law suits.

  34. Makes sense, the straight arm to the face mask of a defender has to go too.
    Cannot have all the pressure on defensive players to protect offensive players, yet leave these obvious instances of offensive players doing the same thing to defensive players in the game.
    Cant be done.

  35. “It’s obvious that each year, the NFL’s Competition Committee is going to try a little bit harder to take us closer to a time when helmet-to-helmet hits are removed from the game completely.”
    It’s obvious to me that each year, the NFL’s Competition Committee is going to try a little bit harder to take us closer to a time when ANY hits are removed from the game completely.

  36. I’m amazed every time I’m reminded that helmet to helmet contact isn’t illegal all the time.

    Maybe I tackled people head to head when I played, but that could be because we couldn’t afford helmets.

  37. If this goes through it will take a long time to retrain the players. It may not really happen until the generation of kids just starting the game learn a different way. It’s something you just learn to do as soon as you get the ball and have to “run through” a defender.

  38. If the NFL would make the money guaranteed in the contract (of course instead of signing for 126 million you sign for 75 million) players wouldn’t care about their health as much. It’s all about the money

  39. To the idiots who say “just keep your head up”. You obviously never played football.

  40. Kiss the game you’ve loved goodbye.

    And next to go will be the 3-point-stance. They’ll make guys stand up all along the line to prevent helmet-to-helmet hits.

  41. What!? Are they going to have a finishing school teacher running along with a ruler in the small of the back and a book on their head? “Stand straight, shoulders back, eyes forward young man. Posture makes perfect”. Freakin’ dudes are defiantly on the pipe, drug test THEM.

  42. The Competition Committee should go ahead and decree that Football will officially be referred to as Rugby. It will make the transition easier for everyone

  43. First, I don’t see this getting passed. Its a good idea in theory, but it would hurt the game too much to get enough people to vote for it.
    And even if it does get passed, I can see refs making bad calls, well more then normal. When ever someone lowers their head refs will have their hands on the flag, ready to throw it. It seems like its going to be based on judgement calls and that leads to bad, inconsistant calls.

    And finally, isn’t there supposed to be safer helmets out there. I have heard many players and people outside of the NFL talk about how they need to switch to better helmets, yet the NFL and colleges are still using these helmets that aren’t doing enough to protect the players.

  44. How about we do this…. How about we have all the NFL players sign a contract that says they’re not going to sue anybody when they get hurt, because they are voluntarily signing up to play the game, and they’re making millions of dollars doing it! And then we can quit making all of these idiotic rules and play the game!

  45. Wow, I’ve actually been a proponent of the majority of the rules changes that have been introduced for player safety but this really may be taking it too far. I fear it fundamentally changes the running game and not in a good way. I understand protecting defenseless receivers and quarterbacks who are by nature focused on non-contact events for a period of time (catching/throwing); but there is no reason to anticipate that a running back nor a tackler should be blindsided by contact. Yeah, I dont think I like this….

  46. pongonfl says:Mar 14, 2013 4:06 PM

    Makes sense, the straight arm to the face mask of a defender has to go too.
    Cannot have all the pressure on defensive players to protect offensive players, yet leave these obvious instances of offensive players doing the same thing to defensive players in the game.
    Cant be done.

    That action is still legal at youth level all the way thru the pros, provided the ball carrier isn’t grabbing the face mask or twisting it or initiating with a forced blow (punch). That isn’t even remotely part of the same issue as leading with the head/spearing/illegal helmet contact that they are looking to address.

    What they are looking to implement is spearing on the part of ball carrier, something that has been in discussion in our officials meetings every year and for the last 5. “Keep the head out of football” has been the national HS Fed and College Point of Emphasis since the mid 90’s.

    I find this a bit intriguing, because for years, the only spearing or illegal helmet contact ever called was always on a defender…usually against the ball carrier, and they rarely call that to this day at the D-I and Pro levels where it is almost commonplace, and now they want to stress it as the new point of emphasis for the refs when it becomes rule. How happy are fans going to be when your stud MVP running back bowls over a safety for a first down on 4th and 2 and it comes back with a 15 yarder on the RB. This will get ugly soon after being implemented….book it.

  47. Has anyone else noticed how small the shoulder pads are these days compared to even the 90’s? The pads today cannot possibly provide as much shock absorption as those of the past.

  48. wanna save the game, stop the lawsuits, old and new players alike. you know there are risks and you get paid a lot of money for it. you don’t want to get hurt, don’t play the game. do something else.

    liability in the courtroom is turning this game into garbage.

  49. In another ten years it will be basically flag football. Great business opportunity for the right people. A new league with the rules og the 60’s. Of course the LFL may take over by then?

  50. The NFL is a product. It is no longer a “sport”. It is a reality show, for profit. If we want to see real “football”, visit your local high school on Friday nights.

  51. to the people who say that this is good and that we need to remember the human element, let us not forget that these players know the risk. Most have been playing since peewee and know what might happen to them on the field. They also get paid millions of dollars in most cases to take the risks to their bodies. I say poll the players or have them vote on their own safety issues.

  52. Tackling technique in American football is simply becoming similar to rugby. The absence of helmets in rugby naturally led to the adoption of tackling without using the head as a weapon. Ironically, as football helmet safety design improved it led to confidence and belief by players (and coaches) that leading with the head was perfectly safe. As it turns out; it is not safe.

  53. Like a lot of things in life of late, this just adds more involvement by officials. More legislation. The new LFL (lawyer football league).

  54. The main problem with this is that it adds another judgement call that will called different from week to week. There are already way too many judgement calls like PI and the defenseless receiver that allow officials to affect outcomes. GOODELL PLEASE STOP!!

  55. So when Earl Campbell lowered his head and trucked that Rams LB in that famous run, that would be a penalty on Earl in today’s NFL? Beyond ridiculous.

  56. I don’t mind this rule if they truly limit it to just the top of the helmet. But the problem is that will not be how it will be enforced – runners should avoid lowering their helmets and leading with the tops of their heads. But contact with a helmet, with the face mask, is inevitable. Refs need to separate between leading with the top of the helmet (for both offense and defense), and incidental/secondary contact with the front, side of the helmet, which is far less dangerous and far more difficult to control. If refs can make that distinction, then these rules are ok. But based on the way all the rules gets blurred, I don’t have much faith that can happen.

  57. Another step to the game of football being unwatchable. In another few years Baseball could overtake Football as the favorite sport as Goodell continues to ruin the game. I say 5 years from ow it may be a flag football league…with no fans. I wont watch.

    Hope Goodell doesn’t mind losing money and fanbase soon for his league. This is just a ridiculous proposal.

  58. I’m sick of everyone complaining about the NFL turning this into two-hand touch. There’s only one solution….


    Vote with your wallets people!! Quit talking and start acting!! Then watch how quick the game goes back to how it once was.

  59. It is impossible to run the football without lowering your head. Unless you just want to get blown up on every single play. Running low to the ground is one of the first things any aspiring running back learns. Player safety is important, but it should be addressed within the context of the game. You can’t ask a running back to just go running straight up into a jungle of 300 pound beasts.

  60. The cervical spine is MOST at-risk in the position this rule describes. When an athlete hits someone with their head down, they risk being forced into cervical flexion which can fracture the cervical vertebrae and potentially cause paralysis. Proper coaching and education to young athletes MUST include the concept of “Heads-Up” tackling. This does not seem like a political move as most of you see it. This is a simply a safety issue and this should have been a rule long ago. People who haven’t worked in the NFL have no clue about the injuries these guys play through.

  61. Put skirts on them!! Turning into a joke league sad! sad! Now it is a totally passing league.whats next? No kick offs someone might get hurt? For the money they make! Shame on them I would play for half of what the league minimum is!!

  62. I can see it now. Two players running full speed, standing straight up, then POW! They run right into eachother and nothing happens….

  63. I agree with many comments. How can this be enforced? and it seems unsafe for the ball carrier.

    having a FS flying into you even with his shoulder and the runner is not supposed to crunch down?

  64. This is getting stupid, they are making major changes without making minor ones first.

    -mandatory mouthpieces
    -mandatory knee pads
    -open helmet manufacturing up to co’s without forcing them to pay 3 mil in licensing fees.

    If this rule goes through it’s going to be a trainwreck. There enough botched “leading with the head calls” as is.

  65. i always enjoy watching people display their ignorance when it comes to safety in football. i’m assuming those that are upset about the rule are people that are stuck on the couch watching the game, and likely have never had a concussion/spinal injury in their life. ignorance is bliss, NFL fans.

  66. Okay – I’ve already commented, but the sheer lunacy of this rule is mind-boggling. Can you imagine trying to actually call this at full speed? What constitutes lowering your head? A 30 degree angle? 45? 90?
    So the score is tied 14-14 with less than a minute and a running back looks to position the ball and isn’t running upright when he’s hit. That’ll be a flag and push them back out of FG range? That’ll SERIOUSLY be called consistently???
    From day one of little league football, you’re taught that the quickest way to get hurt is to run upright. We’re going to take away some potential concussions and trade them for how many spine and neck injuries?

  67. and next they are going to BAN football players from the field! CGFL is the next wave! CG players do not require big (or real) salaries…then all of the former human football players can go on the government dole and help to usher along the great socialist/communist era – way to go baddell!

  68. I don’t have an issue with the rule but claiming Riggins and Jim Brown lower their head like that never saw any of them play…

  69. This is stupid. Lowering your head is in many cases a reflex action. And it is part of lowering your pads for impact and leverage.

    How can you lower your shoulder pads, while keeping your head up, without having it ripped off when a LB launches into you?

    How this idiotic proposal made it this far is beyond me.

  70. The problem with helmets is they are hard. Coat the outside of a helmet in a soft layer and you arent going to have the same effect when raming someone. Think of 2 pool balls covered in foam.


    This idea of stopping RBs from lowering their head is NUTS !

    The kind of thing you would expect from someone who has never played football beyond high school.

    The Pro Cap successfully protected NFL players from concussions, dating back to the 1980s…IT WORKED !

    Yet Roger Goodell will not mandate the use of the ProCap technology to protect today’s NFL players..go figure.

    Sounds like Roger is more concerned about putting on a show before the concussion lawsuits are litigated, with the hope that the NFL will look like they have changed their ways and actually care about the players health.

    When the evidence of the NFL’s past behavior, dating back to the 1920s, is made public, it won’t paint a caring picture and Goodell and the owners know it. All this talk of and changing of rules, is being done with the idea that Goodell can remake the NFL’s image before it is defined by their past behavior, dating back to the 1920s.

  72. Since i play halfback, i know that it wouldnt make a difference.. You would just crack Every bone In your lower Body instead and Then end up Like Earl campbell instead…

  73. Anyone know whether Arena Football has these rules? I’m seriously considering giving up the NFL.

  74. NFL is turning soft. if guys dont want to risk their bodies for millions of $$$$ then find a different career.

  75. Regrettably there is no rule preventing head to anus collisions, which explains who so many owners, GMs, coaches and players need a glass navel to see out.

  76. The NFL wants to make the game “more exciting” (read: more passing) in hopes it will deliver more profits.

    More passing leads to more injuries. Most injuries, especially major injuries, happen on passing plays. QBs, linemen, CBs, and WRs are all more likely to get injured- and seriously injured- on passing plays.

    If they got rid of most of the rule changes over the past 20 years that favor passing- there would be more balance between running and passing, and fewer injuries.

    And the game would more closely resemble what it was meant to be, there would be fewer ticky-tack penalties and jump balls to impact and distort the play on the field with the score of the game. It would become a less QB-centric game, and more of a team game as well.

    All of which would be good for the game.

  77. O cough with these sissy a$s rules already its football people, players know exactly what they getting into from a young child if they wanted a safe no contact sport they would have taken up golf as a career so just stop with all these sissy rule changes it is seriously getting out of hand dam I miss the good ole days when football was smash mouth football that is what it is all about!

  78. These comments really do show how much people don’t understand about the mechanism that causes serious cervical spine injuries. LOWERING your head i.e. hitting someone with the top of your helmet is the #1 cause of serious spinal injuries in football. There are signs in NFL and NCAA facilities that say “Play Heads-Up Football” with pictures for exactly this reason. I hope none of you idiots teach/coach kids otherwise.
    -Medical professional with experience at NFL and NCAA FBS Football.

  79. rules like this is EXACTLY why me and my family havnt been to a live game in 5 years, our bought any merch from the nfl..and this just ensures well never go 2 another game again..
    i love the couch, cheap drinks and food to much to spend hundreds to watch 2 hand touch football

  80. I love how all these internet tough guys come out with their flag football and “sissification of the NFL” comments whenever there’s a story like this. A couple things to note for those of you who haven’t thought this through.

    1. The proposed penalty would be for leading with the CROWN (top) of your helmet. Every decent coach teaches every player to “see what you hit”, i.e. keep your head UP, i.e. DON’T lower your head and lead with the crown.

    2. Just like with defense, there is (and likely never will be) a rule about how hard you can hit someone. Watch Dashon Goldson smack the crap out of people and rarely get penalized/fined. Lower your body, keep your head up, hit with your chest/shoulders, and you’ll be fine no matter how hard you hit; same will be true for RBs.

    3. If you think running upright is laughable, go watch some Jerome Bettis highlights. He ran through people without lowering his head, and his career lasted much longer than most RBs. He was a Pro Bowler at 32.

    Now, all you internet tough guys: Go run full speed into a wall with your head lowered so that the crown of your head makes first contact; try it 30 times a week. Then come back and tell us about how you think your favorite team’s RBs is a pansy if he doesn’t do that to his career and life.

  81. For every rule they change for safety’s sake, they create at least six more problems. They have already reduced this game to one step above Flagg football. The game is almost unrecognizable from years ago, and it’s all about the owners not wanting any contact at all fog fear of lawsuits. At this rate, it won’t be long before the lingerie league becomes the new and real NFL. And truth be told, it’s more physical.

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