This one play in Cardinals-Chargers preseason game shows new NFL helmet rule is broken

The good news for the NFL is it appears to have fixed the catch rule. The bad news is no one cares because everyone is too busy worried about the new helmet rule the league instituted this offseason. And with good reason: it's creating some serious controversy in the preseason thus far, with things coming to a peak this weekend during the Cardinals-Chargers Week 1 preseason matchup. 

In this game, two separate hits that appeared legal to the average viewing eye were flagged for, ostensibly, using a helmet as a weapon. 

Before we dive into those plays, let's look at the specifics of the rule put in place this offseason: "It is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent."

That seems specific and obvious, but it's not. The problem for the NFL is players are lowering their helmets constantly, in all different situations. The first from this game occurred on a play involving Cardinals safety A.J. Howard, who was flagged for unnecessary roughness on Sean Culkin during a play that was ruled a catch and a fumble but called back for a foul. 

"He put the hat right on the ball," Cardinals broadcaster Ron Wolfley lamented during the game. 

Look at the angle Howard is taking here -- how is he supposed to do anything OTHER than "lead with his helmet"? Should he dropkick him? Launch his body sideways? Stand up straight and hope to pull Culkin down?

Technically this first one was not ruled a leading with the helmet situation -- the refs flagged Howard for hitting a defenseless receiver. Not so for Travell Dixon, who would be flagged on the first play of the fourth quarter for leading with the helmet. 

Again, Wolfley lost his mind. And it's hard to blame him, especially with the play that was specifically flagged for leading the helmet. Look at this: dude is standing straight up and tackles the ballcarrier.

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via NFL GamePass

There's no way you could look at this play and, with any reasonable sense of accuracy, believe the player in question actually led with his helmet.

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via NFL GamePass

From the full wide angle, because I guess we need to see that too.

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via NFL GamePass

I mean, I don't know where to start. I don't think he even led with his helmet in the first place, but if the league believes this is correct, it's just a massive problem. How on earth can anyone actually tackle? He stood there and took the guy down. 

There's just a massive difference between trying to hurt someone with a helmet and trying to simply tackle someone and having your helmet be near the tackle in question. Players can't separate their arms and shoulders and contact with the helmet 100 percent of the time. This should at least be reviewable right? 

People on social media are melting down about this,  and it's also kind of understandable. 

AZ Central also corralled some more reactions, of which there were plenty, especially from Cardinals fans. People are confused, because there's a vastly different set of circumstances involving someone putting a helmet on the ball and someone trying to target another player's head with their helmet.

I get that the play in which Ryan Shazier was injured last year would have been a penalty and perhaps that's the logic, to try and make sure NFL players aren't suffering spine injuries. That's a good thing. But the league doesn't appear to have a clear handle on it, and it's creating confusion.

As Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk pointed out, that the league probably needs to change and/or rewrite the rule before the regular season begins, and before a game is altered because the NFL wanted to jam this rule into play ahead of the 2018 season. 

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Will Brinson joined CBS Sports in 2010 and enters his seventh season covering the NFL for CBS. He previously wrote for FanHouse along with myriad other Internet sites. A North Carolina native who lives... Full Bio

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