NFL Owners Institute Rule Against Lowering Head When Making Hit

On Tuesday, an unexpected rule was passed by NFL owners that expands penalties for when contact of helmet-on-helmet takes place. The new rule is far reaching and more significant than the targeting rule used in the NCAA.

With this new rule, a player is assessed a 15-year penalty and possible ejection any time the head is lowered to initiate contact with the helmet against the opponent. It applies to tacklers, lineman and ball carriers, and takes the place of the previous rule that limited penalties to contact initiated by the crown of the helmet.

The targeting rule in the NCAA penalizes players when they hit an opponent in a defenseless position. The rule calls for a mandatory ejection, but the competition committee in the NFL has not addressed how an ejection is to be adjudicated, said Rich McKay the committee chairman.

However, little doubt exists that the NFL has become determined to address in an aggressive manner a 2017 season that saw 291 concussions, the highest total ever, and a severe spinal injury to Ryan Shazier a linebacker with the Pittsburgh Steelers, on a play that would have fallen under the rule established on Tuesday.

McKay said that it seems players across all levels have become more comfortable using the helmet as a weapon instead of a protective device and that a broad rule was needed to put that into context and we feel this does just that.

Coaches, players and fans wonder how this new rule would impact the game.

According to research in the NFL, close to one out of two hits that were helmet to helmet caused concussion during 2017, which is a ratio that is higher than one out of three from 2015.

Initially the competition committee was planning to make the lowering of the helmet a point of emphasis in 2018, rather than making it a rule change, said McKay. However, after owners talked on Tuesday they decided to convert what they had talked about into an immediate rule change.

On Tuesday owners unanimously approved another new rule that involves catching the ball, and authorized Al Riveron the senior vice president of officiating to eject players for egregious non-football related acts.

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