Ray Rice latest to excoriate NFL for new crown of helmet rule

Ray Rice is the latest back to criticize a controversial rule change.  (USATSI)

Days after NFL owners approved a controversial rule that will penalize running backs for initiating contact with the crown of their helmet outside the tackle box, a number of prominent runners took to Twitter earlier this month to deride the new measure.

Bears running back Matt Forte obstinately promises to run with the same physical, battering style he has employed over the past several seasons. Confounded by the rule change, Forte wrote, “the last time I checked football was a contact sport, I’m calling (my) bank now to set up my lowering the boom fund.”

Jaguars diminutive back Justin Forsett took a different tune, by writing, “I'm going to have to find ways to strengthen my chin now.”

Bills running back Fred Jackson jokingly added, “I’m not sliding.” Even defensive backs seem opposed to the rule. Vikings safety Harrison Smith, for instance, wrote “soon everyone will get a trophy for participation.”

This weekend, Ray Rice became the latest to express his displeasure toward the new directive. Rice, a three-time Pro Bowl running back with the Ravens, vows to appeal any penalty and fine he receives for using the crown of his helmet on a defender in the open field. If a running back delivers a blow with that part of their helmet more than three yards downfield or outside the tackle box next season, he will be assessed with a 15-yard penalty.

"I'm just telling you right now, there's not going to be a guy that's going to be able to get a free lick on me and think it's all right,” Rice told the Ravens’ official web site. “I will defend my case, and I will defend myself as a runner."

Since entering the NFL in 2008, Rice has consistently been one of the top running backs in the league at producing yards after contact. Last season, Pro Football Focus ranked Rice 11th among all running backs in the category with 606. A season earlier, the former Rutgers’ All-American placed fourth overall with 721. Adrian Peterson led the NFL last season with 1,369 yards after contact. Remarkably, only six running backs throughout the league finished with more overall yards. 

Rice, meanwhile, produced one of the top highlights of the 2012 season with a conversion on a 4th-and-29 catch in the waning moments of a late-November win over the Chargers. Rice earned a first down when he lowered his head in a last-ditch effort. 

Courtesy: Jay Matthews

"You're going to protect yourself as a runner,” Rice said. “Not one running back, you ask anyone in the league, not one is going to change their game. People are just going to have to deal with the consequences the first couple years."

With player safety in mind, NFL owners nearly passed the measured unanimously. Of the 32 teams in the NFL, only the Bengals voted against it. The new rule doesn’t prevent running backs from creating contact with their facemask or the hairline part of his helmet.

"It'll certainly make our runners aware of what we expect relative to use of the helmet," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told ESPN.com. “It's a toss-up as to which side of the ball has the advantage on this rule, if any. The main thing is it's pro-health and safety, and that's the big thing."

Keep your eye on everything NFL by following Matt Rybaltowski on Twitter:@mattrybaltowski.

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