The NFL season kicks off in less than a month, and the league's new helmet rule is still unclear, confusing and difficult to grasp. On Wednesday, the league once again tried to bring clarity to the rule by releasing yet another video breakdown of the rule, but the video had the opposite effect.
The video, released by the NFL's head of officiating, Al Riveron, provides three examples of clean plays and three examples of penalties under the new rule. The clean plays are easy to understand in that none of the players involved are lowering their helmets to initiate contact. The penalties, however, are not easy to understand, because they're difficult to spot without the aid of commentary and/or indicators like arrows or bubbles or anything really (the league's last video breakdown, released in June, did at least include these things, and it was much more effective at clarifying the rule).
Take a look:
The Use of Helmet rule is designed to protect players from unnecessary risk. It's illegal to lower your head to initiate contact against an opponent. This rule applies to all players & the entire field. The 1st 3 plays are examples of the #NFLWaytoPlay and the last 3 are fouls. pic.twitter.com/HzfR196UIg— Al Riveron (@alriveron) August 15, 2018
On the second-to-last play, the infraction might be on No. 82 of the Browns, who blocks his man with his helmet leading. On the final play, No. 92 of the Jaguars appears to engage his blocker with his helmet leading. Those are my best guesses. Either way, it took me four or five re-watches to find the penalties.
Now, imagine an official being forced to spot those infractions in real time. Hell, the NFL just told me there was going to be an infraction before the plays started, and I still couldn't spot all of them until I replayed the video a few times.
The rule, passed in March, aims to prevent players from lowering their heads to initiate and make contact with opponents. To be ejected, a player must lower "his helmet to establish a linear body posture prior to initiating and making contact with the the helmet," a player needs to have "an unobstructed path to his opponent," and the contact has to be "clearly avoidable."
It's easy to understand why the league wanted to pass the rule. Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier suffered a tragic spinal injury when he lowered his head to make a routine tackle. Packers receiver Davante Adams was concussed when he got headshotted by Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan. Player safety matters. It should matter.
But players aren't happy about the rule. Discussing the rule with officials hasn't made them any happier. And it's becoming clear that enforcing the rule might be a mess, because it's a very difficult rule to enforce in real time. The rule's intentions might be good, but enforcing the rule will likely be a mess.