The Week 11 “After Further Review” focuses on a necessary rule change, and more

NFL: NOV 21 Steelers at Chargers
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Our new Wednesday segment, dubbed After Further Review, is a platform for pointing out officiating errors that otherwise go unacknowledged by the NFL. But it’s also an opportunity to do something else the NFL currently fails to do — to have a semi-intelligent conversation about good calls or close calls.

It’s also a chance to identify some rule changes that the league may want to consider.

This week’s edition of After Further Review, ended with a discussion of the wicked blow to the head that was absorbed by Steelers running back Najee Harris from Chargers linebacker Kyzir White on Sunday night. Although many assumed that a flag should have been thrown, a source with thorough and extensive knowledge and experience when it comes to the crafting and application of the rules as currently written explained to PFT that Harris did not fall under any of the 11 categories of “defenseless player,” and that he could legally be struck in the head or neck area.

The problem with the hit is that it looked like the kind of thing that, given the current rules, amounts to a violation, because Harris seemed to be defenseless. But it’s currently not a violation, because the official categories don’t include the situation in which Harris found himself.

Non-defenseless players who are not yet tackled can indeed be struck in the head or neck area. The only clear rule that limits contact against non-defenseless runners comes from the general prohibition, adopted in 2018, against lowering the helmet to initiate contact. In this specific case, it was a forearm to the face, not a helmet to the helmet.

So here’s how to spin it forward, if the goal is to minimize brutal hits that can cause injury (and, in turn, make it harder for the league to finish the inevitable push for 18 games, which is definitely coming). The league could craft a new category of defenseless player that includes a player who, as Harris was, is airborne and on the way to the ground, with no realistic chance of landing on his feet. Alternatively (or additionally), a catch-all provision could be added to the current categories of “defenseless” player to permit the officials to protect a player who, for whatever reason, is judged to not be in a position to reasonably protect himself against a blow to the head or neck area.

While the latter approach could become a challenge when it comes to ensuring consistency in the application of the rule (especially with part-time officials), it provides a way to inject a “know it when you see it” element into the question of whether one player applies an impermissibly wicked hit to the head or neck of another player who was not in the position to ward it off or avoid it.

That’s what the rule regarding hits to defenseless players is meant to prohibit. The challenge becomes defining the term “defenseless” broadly enough to encompass all “defenseless” players. Harris was objectively defenseless when he was hit in the face with a forearm, but the rules as currently written don’t acknowledge that reality. That needs to change.

11 responses to “The Week 11 “After Further Review” focuses on a necessary rule change, and more

  1. I like your thought on this, but why not just make all hits to the head illegal except when it is unintentional and unavoidable. Ie the player was trying to not hit them in the head, but the offensive player moved or some other contact caused the hit to the head.

  2. It’s good to know that a player’s head, inadvertently offered-up to another players swinging forearm, is considered a football- move. SMH.

  3. Agree. Subjective rules on books lead to multiple gray areas already and then a whole lot of insanity on the back end blatantly incorrect officiating.

    Still, that hit. Dang.

  4. Is more “subjectivity” really something we want to add to officials plate when their failure to handle the “subjectivity” they currently have is probably the biggest reason for their poor, inconsistent officiating now ? I shutter to think how NFL officials would handle your “know it when you see it” latitude when that is EXACTLY what they’re so poor at now.

  5. Sorry. Bad idea. Football has been around for so long that pretty much any new rule is a bad one.

  6. Expecting common-sense from the NFL on officiating is a non-starter in any case. They can’t even enforce the rules correctly with what they have. A sky-judge (and pretty much anyone watching from home) could obviously see it was a cheap shot. Let the sky judge call it that way (just like if a player retaliates and is the only one flagged)…..

  7. There was a much worse hit to the head no call that even the commentators seemed surprised wasn’t called after Cam Sutton was on the ground after intercepting the pass Cam Heyward blocked.

  8. If the end game of these proposed rule changes is to take away any instances of injuries or penalties then just stop playing the games. Just have a livestream of the teams going against each other on Madden. There’s always going to be a risk involved in football especially with how fast the plays occur and how athletic the athletes are. Or have them in bubble wrap and about 40 referees. At that point who would watch aside from gamblers?

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