Following the new rule regarding a player leading with the crown of their helmet, Marvin Lewis and Cincinnati Bengals players react.
Cincinnati Bengals safety Shawn Williams and linebacker Nick Vigil are among many players that are speaking on behalf of the NFL’s new helmet rule. The basic understanding is making it illegal for a player, offense or defense, to lower their head and lead with the crown of their helmet. Lowering your head into a tackle is extremely dangerous for both players and can cause serious neck injuries like what happened to Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier last season.
It’s not uncommon for players to speak out on new rule changes as they try and figure out ways around the new rule or how to adjust their play style to not get flagged. This rule, however, might need some clarity when the owners meet in May. One example to why the rule needs more discussion is in 2013 when it was made illegal for a running back to lower their head and lead with the crown of their helmet penalties were being called on a consistent basis. The league told the officials to only called the most flagrant plays where players used their helmets as weapons.
There lies an even bigger problem. When a rule is made but only called some of the time then there strikes controversy and media uproar when it doesn’t get called to benefit their team over the other. Similar to last seasons playoffs when New England Patriots Rob Gronkowski got the flag when he was injured in a helmet to helmet collision but Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce did not receive the same when he was injured the same way.
"“It becomes a judgment thing. It’s going to be a thing that’s debated all the time on television. It already is,” Lewis said last week. “They’re acting like it’s a thing bigger than it is. So it’s already gotten out of control. It’s the same education piece. Any time there’s any kind of revision, I think the people that spend the time talking about it need to be educated and understand it. Not only that, you have to educate the players.”"
Players seem to be reacting differently than the coaches as they see it as another rule to go against them in a game that happens so fast already. While they understand and support making the game safer for the players, it also is making it really hard for defenders to change the way they play in split-second situations without getting penalized. At least Nick Vigil thinks so.
"“It kind of took everybody by surprise. You have to change the way you play the game. I guess they have to clarify what is an illegal hit and what’s not. But it’s going to take some time for people to adjust. You might see a lot of penalties early in the year, I guess, I don’t know. Your head makes contact most of the time first before anything else.”"
It seems that the players don’t really have a grasp on what is and is not illegal with the new rule which will be discussed likely in May by the owners. Considering some of the players have not heard from their coaches about the matter, could mean that Lewis is still waiting to hear the final definition as well.
"“Normally when something like this comes out, Coach Marvin texts me or George,” said Williams of fellow starting safety George Iloka. “I’m sure he probably texted (linebacker) Vontaze (Burfict) and some of the other guys. We haven’t really heard from him. I don’t know if they have a clear understanding or definition right now. Because I sure don’t.”"
It could be possible that the league is looking to take away the gray area on the helmet to helmet contact rule and clarify it more. Making it to where anytime a player leads with the crown instead of debating whether they lowered their helmet or not could help with some of those controversial penalties in years past. Including the ones with Gronkowski and Kelce that we mentioned earlier.
This rule will be interesting to watch at the beginning of the season as players and officials try and adjust. There will likely be a good amount of penalties as players try and see what they can get away with. It will also just be an adjustment for players especially at the linebacker and safety positions that are coming down to make a tackle.