Keanu Neal is, objectively, extremely fun to watch. He hits like a truck with revenge on its mind, he runs like a deer, and he is always around the ball, which means he’ll deliver a couple of highlight-reel tackles per game. That style means he’s also at risk of being penalized under the NFL’s new, poorly-enforced helmet rule, and we saw that happen against the Chiefs.
You’ll see Neal arrive a split second after Brooks Reed made contact and lead with his shoulder here. If you were watching this from an extreme distance, you might assume he had led with his helmet and deserved a 15 yard penalty. From basically any other angle or distance or speed, however, you’d realize this didn’t fit the bill.
keanu neal got 15 yards for this pic.twitter.com/uKzodtxUw1— charles mcdonald (lakers 0-0) (@FourVerts) August 17, 2018
That’s sort of the problem: The way Neal tackles, or at least appears to tackle, puts him at risk if the NFL doesn’t get better and more consistent at calling these kinds of penalties. My hope is that that they will, but every team in the NFL has to be nervous about enforcement, and not all those teams have Neal.
What should Keanu do about it? In my humble opinion, not much. Changing his style or introducing hesitation would just take away from what makes him effective in the first place, and it’s really incumbent on the NFL to try to make the game safer without slowing it down and creating significant headaches. But I can also promise you, unfortunately, that this isn’t the last time Keanu Neal will be called for this exact penalty, whether or not he actually leads with his helmet.