The helmet rule is back. As if it’s ever going to go away.
Thursday night’s game between the Eagles and Patriots featured yet another example of an impractical rule that was sold as a means for ending the decades-long practice of using the helmet as a weapon but that is so broad that it threatens to turn football players more rigid and upright than foosball players.
In the first quarter, New England running back James White broke free down the sideline on a rushing attempt. Philadelphia defensive back Rodney McLeod, who seemed to try to loop around White in an effort to execute a form tackle, went in for the finishing move. McLeod lowered his head to execute the tackle, since his head was/is connected to the rest of his body. White dipped his own head to brace for impact. Helmets collided, and McLeod was penalized.
On one hand, maybe this is an example of how the play will be over-officiated in the preseason. On the other hand, the rule as written (i.e., way too broadly) encompasses McLeod’s maneuver. He lowered the head (which had a helmet on it), and he initiated contact.
But as we’ve said before, and surely will say again, what was McLeod supposed to do? Maybe he could have tried to contort his body, whipping his torso into White’s legs while keeping the helmet from striking White, but good luck pulling that one off in real time and at full speed. (Cowboys safety Jeff Heath seemed to try to do that last week, when tackling 49ers tight end George Kittle.)
McLeod was, by all appearances, trying to tackle a ball carrier who wasn’t standing still. And when pursuing a player who is moving as quickly as he can, a true form tackle is impossible to consistently execute without the risk of helmet contact to the ball carrier. So, please, tell us what McLeod is supposed to do in that situation?
And please don’t say, “Don’t go in head first.” How can a defender reliably make a form tackle in the sport commonly described as tackle football if he doesn’t at some point lower his shoulders — and, in turn, lower his head?