With the Hall of Fame game taking place last night, the NFL calendar has officially begun. While the game itself was not the most exciting, one thing that many were watching for was the officiating of the new “Use of Helmet” rule which was introduced this offseason. If you aren’t familiar with the new rule, here is the text as listed on the NFL Operations website as well as a video explanation of the rule below:
The most significant change for 2018 is the new Use of Helmet rule. The rule states that it is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent. This rule pertains to all players on the field, and to all areas of the field.
The officiating standards for the Use of Helmet rule are:
Lowering the head (not to include bracing for contact)
Initiating contact with the helmet to any part of an opponent. Contact does not have to be to an opponent’s head or neck area — lowering the head and initiating contact to an opponent’s torso, hips, and lower body, is also a foul.
Making contact on an opponent (both offense and defense)
Players can be ejected for use of helmet fouls — and all ejections will be reviewed by senior officials in Art McNally GameDay Central in New York. The standards for ejection are, if:
The player lowers his helmet to establish a linear body posture prior to initiating and making contact with the helmet;
The player delivering the blow had an unobstructed path to his opponent; and if
The contact was clearly avoidable
The problem with this rule is that it relies so much on subjectivity. We got to see the officiating in action enforcing the rule last night. Two penalties were called last night that fell under this rule, and both appear to have been questionable at best. Below are the offending plays.
Playing safety is effectively illegal in today's NFL. Penalty. pic.twitter.com/YmotYfLyzT— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) August 3, 2018
Aaaaand again pic.twitter.com/m3RMA5d9kA— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) August 3, 2018
While our first instinct is to react with outrage, it is important to remember that this is the first game of the preseason. Officials have always clamped down hard where new rules are concerned, and err on the side of very liberally distributing flags during those games. This is actually a good thing.
While it might make preseason games longer and less than fun to watch, in the long run it allows the officials to improve the process. They’ll figure out through the preseason how to officiate this call better, they’ll look at the issues that arose because of the way it was officiated during that time, and come the regular season they will likely significantly dial back how often the calls are made.
As Brett wrote yesterday, defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus addressed the helmet use rule and dismissed the idea that it would be a problem. He talked about hamstring tackles being a thing he has coached in his time working with defenses anyway, and did not expect adverse consequences for the Colts defense as a result of the rule.
It sounds like we will have to wait and see how things are officiated once the regular season arises, but until that point, it is prudent to treat the preseason like what it is; a trial run for the regular season, both for the players and the officials.
What are your thoughts on this new rule?