Confusion and uncertainty continues to exist regarding the manner in which the NFL’s new helmet rules will apply.
As written, the rule that prohibits the lowering of the helmet and initiating contact with the helmet applies anywhere and everywhere, including at the line of scrimmage. The rule that prohibits ramming, butting, or spearing with any portion of the helmet except when incidental to conventional blocking and tackling applies anywhere and everywhere, including at the line of scrimmage. And the fact sheet recently distributed by the NFL makes clear the reality that, even though it may be hard for officials to see the instances among the scrum of bodies that collide at the snap, the rules still apply there.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy believes otherwise.
“That’s not what they’re after,” McCarthy told reporters on Thursday regarding the helmet-to-helmet contact that will occur when a running back trying to convert on third and short drops his helmet. “I mean, lowering yourself. You’re always teaching your players to play with good pad level. . . . And really the phone-booth football, whether it’s third-and-one, short yardage and goal line, those types of situations. Those are not really the focus where the concern is high. . . . The phone-booth football is not an area of emphasis.”
It may not be an area of emphasis, but the rules still apply in that area. Which means that, at best, a disconnect exists between the language of the rule and its looming application. At worst, McCarthy and everyone else are about to learn that the area of emphasis is broader than believed, and that the same forces that slipped these two helmet rules through football’s five hole will ensure that the rules are applied in a way that takes the helmet completely and totally out of the game, in open space and in phone booths.
The coaches who realize that and adjust accordingly will be in the best position to avoid giving up field position in 15-yard chunks.