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NFL Passes "Crown Of The Helmet" Rule; Tuck Rule Removed

The NFL just passed the controversial "Crown of the Helmet" rule, banning runners from lowering their heads into defenders. Have we seen the end of running the football as we know it?

Watch out Adrian! Lower your head any further and it's a penalty.
Watch out Adrian! Lower your head any further and it's a penalty.

EDIT: In case you're wondering, Zygi Wilf did vote for the rule change, although he expressed concern about it according to Chris Mortensen. Only Cincinnati was smart enough to realize the potential harm of this rule change voted no on the rule.

COUNTERPOINT EDIT: This transcript of the explanation of the rule, passed onto me by Adam Stites of Big Cat Country, makes me a little more hopeful about the rule change. Jeff Fisher explains that runners will still be allowed to get low and protect themselves, just not strike someone with their helmet. It will be very interesting to see how the rule is enforced during games.

Are you ready for some FLAG football? Because that might be the next step in the evolution of the NFL rules.

OK, so that might be a bit of hyperbole. The NFL is still technically tackle football that involves large men running into each other. But one of the basic elements of professional football has just been removed.

The NFL Annual Meeting in Phoenix concluded on Thursday and two very controversial issues were addressed. The first one will please Oakland Raiders fans...if it happened about a dozen years earlier. The "Tuck Rule" has been officially eliminated from the NFL. Nobody outside of New England will bemoan this change too much. The NFL explains exactly what changes with the removal of the Tuck Rule:

The rule's elimination makes it so a player loses possession when he tries to bring the ball back to his body. If the passer loses control while the ball is going forward, it's still incomplete. If he loses the ball while tucking, it's a fumble.

Here's a video of the shining example of the Tuck Rule: the 2001 AFC Divisional Playoff between the Raiders and Patriots.

At least something that came out of the Annual Meeting today makes sense, because the next change certainly doesn't in my opinion. It looks like the NFL replaced one dumb rule with another.

The NFL owners passed the "crown of the helmet" rule today, which means that "forceful blows delivered by running backs with the crown of the helmet in the open field" are now outlawed. Basically it means that running backs can't lead with their helmets when they're outside of the tackles.

There's one basic reason why this rule was passed: safety. With all the concussion and head injury concerns swirling around the league, they continue to be proactive in changing the rules to make the game "safer". The concern was that when running backs lower their helmets and pads to combat an oncoming defender, it exposes the runners to head injuries and the defenders to the various dangers of getting smacked with a helmet. In theory the rule change makes sense. In practice, I think the rule is basically replacing one risk with what might be an even greater risk.

One of the first things runners are taught in all levels of football is to get their pads low. It gives runners leverage, helps them protect the ball, and...wait for protects them from getting hurt. It's widely believed that running backs that run straight up and down instead of leaning forward to get leverage are much more susceptible to big hits, fumbles, and injuries.

Even if you believe that the crown of the helmet rule will make the game safer, there's another major flaw with the rule change: it fundamentally changes how the game is played. Of course advocates of the change will point to this fact as a positive--a fundamental change in thinking and playing was needed to make football safer and protect the players. So let's say that a running back knows that he can no longer lower his helmet into the chest of a defender on an outside run. Forget the fact that he has been doing it so long that it's basically instinct by this point. What are his options now?

  • He simply runs out of bounds or goes to the ground, preventing him from gaining crucial extra yardage.
  • He leaves his head up and crashes into the defender. Which means his helmet will be at the same level as the defender's helmet. Which increases the probability of helmet to helmet contact, the exact thing that the league is trying to avoid in the first place.

Are there any other options? I'm being serious here. I don't see any.

I'll admit I'm especially fired up about this rule change because it directly affects the best player on my favorite team. Adrian Peterson is notorious for running over potential tacklers with all parts of his body, but he does tend to get low and lead with his helmet more than just about any other runner in the NFL. Perhaps you'll remember this play from the 2009 season against Pittsburgh:

If he does something like that again in 2013, he'll probably get flagged for it thanks to this new rule. Because Heaven forbid a play that thrilling and awe-inspiring happens again in the NFL--someone might get hurt!

Current and former running backs throughout the NFL universe have universally deplored the change. Hall of Famers like Marshall Faulk and Emmitt Smith have both referred to how many "chins will be busted" if runners are forced to keep their heads up for contact. Running back is already one of the most punishing positions in the league; it's very rare to see a productive running back excel for more than about five years. So why expose them to even more harm? The NFL is already pass-happy; are they just trying to turn the league into a glorified 7-on-7 game?

I get why the rule was passed, and apparently by a wide margin. SAFETY FIRST, YOU GUYS. But this just smacks of Roger Goodell and the NFL trying to overcompensate and cover their asses by promoting safety in an inherently violent sport. Some of the past rule changes have managed to be effective at promoting better safety while maintaining the game's integrity. I fear that the crown of the helmet rule will do neither.

Hopefully I'm wrong and the rule change will garner some positive results, but I doubt it. I'm really not ready for some flag football.