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The New Helmet Rule: A Perfect Clusterf*** Of Chaos

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An absurd change is already rearing an ugly head

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Tennessee Titans
The new rule has caused a stir during the preseason
Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

I mean, really?

When NFL owners approved the new helmet rule back in May, there’s no doubt in my mind it was after a few bourbons that would’ve cost me a paycheck to afford. How in the hell did they think this was a good idea?

Player safety is important. The players don’t care if they get hurt or develop long-term health issues, so it’s important - and almost imperative - to protect them from themselves. I get that.

But damn, this is a bit ridiculous, right?

The criticism across the league has been sharp and widespread. If it didn’t hurt so bad it would almost be funny. Almost.

ESPN’s Louis Riddick discussed the confusion concerning the new rule for the first two minutes of this video. It’s comforting to see intelligent analysts such as Riddick speaking some sense.

49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan took a pretty direct approach himself.

We’ve been through rule change experiments during the preseason before, that is nothing new. But the degree of absurdity that has been witnessed thus far has caused legitimate concern and rightfully so.

The question is: how did no one see this coming?

It’s impossible to ban the helmet from football. As the rule currently states, using any part of the helmet during a hit — whether incidental or not — results in a 15-yard penalty. Every single collision of is a product of momentum and to ask a player to adjust like that - to slow down - is not only extremely difficult, but dangerous.

Common sense should prevail in this situation. When you hit someone with your shoulder, your head naturally follows in that direction. It’s not that hard to understand.

There are more problems than player safety and one of those is the fact that we don’t really know what the refs are out there calling right now. One call looks different than another, yet all of the results are the same. Penalties are subjective enough anyway, especially where there is a ton of gray area and right now there’s more gray than the Country Kitchen Buffet.

“I think there’s definitely truth to it – it’s not clear,” Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter said in reference to how ambiguity of the new rule. “The players in general – it’s not crystal clear. We’ve watched the videos. The league has sent videos the last two weeks dealing exclusively with the use of the helmet. But it’s still football and when they send videos out and they’re showing them in slow motion, that’s different than playing football. So I think there’s just going to be an adjustment period. This is a significant change. We’ll just have to see how it goes.”

Coupling a major shift in procedure with indirect instruction is bound for disaster no matter how good one’s intentions may be.

And let’s go ahead and slide down the slippery slope of game-changing calls, unfair and/or unnecessary ejections, and whatever else can change the course of a game due to inconsistent calls.

On a quick side note — if you thought this helmet rule was scary enough, what about the call last weekend on Vikings’ linebacker Antwione Williams? The new rule officially states that, “a defensive player must not unnecessarily or violently throw him down or land on top of him with all or most of the defender’s weight.”

I swear to all of the holy figures in this universe, if this call makes it into the regular season, I will be using the warranty on TV. The wall mount just “broke” and the TV somehow has a fist-sized hole in it.

Um, sure. Go ahead and ask a 6-foot-3, 247-pound linebacker like Williams to shift more than 50% of his body weight in mid-air while falling to the ground and trying to take a 225-pound (at minimum) quarterback down with him.

That’s not much to ask at all, right?

So where does the NFL go from here? Fortunately for everyone there will be a meeting on Wednesday of this week and the word is that there will be plea after plea to help change - or at the least, adjust the rule. It’s doubtful that the league will just forego the whole thing, but any type of change would almost be welcomed at this point.

Could they implement a review procedure for questionable calls? Why not limit the rule to just the crown of the helmet? Why not get rid of incidental contact? This video by Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn does a good job showing the intent of ball carriers and what should be called - therefore making it much easier to discern between incidental and intentional contact.

According to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, this “significant change” is in year one of a three-year adjustment period in which the league will update the rules as time marches on, which just adds to the chaos. What may be deemed illegal this year, could be the opposite 2019.

Despite the negativity it’s important to remember that this is the first time that anything like this rule has been attempted. This is not the norm for a game that has been around for over a hundred years. The frenzy - to an extent - is to be expected.

But the hope is that something productive - and some sort of change - comes out of Wednesday’s meeting. In a perfect world, the NFL would just come out and say “gotcha!”.

But you know what they say about wishing in one hand and performing another duty in the other.

My money is on the other hand.