Through two preseason weeks thus far, there’s one issue that has stood out above the rest: the new lowering the helmet rule. For those who are not familiar with it, the new rule has now made it a penalty for a player to lower his helmet to initiate contact. This can be assessed against both the offense and defense, but it stands to reason that defensive players will be hit hardest by it, and it seems impossible to avoid.
Falcons fans saw it first hand when Keanu Neal was penalized for lowering the helmet in the game against the Chiefs. On replay, it was pretty clear that Neal hit the player with his shoulder in what was a textbook tackle. Instead, the 15 yard penalty resulted in a first down and sustaining the drive for the Chiefs.
Don’t get me wrong: I could care less about the scores or drives in the preseason. However, with two weeks left in the preseason, the NFL needs to use these next few weeks to fix this rule or they run the risk of making the game unwatchable.
Call the penalty now and adjust
The NFL has a prime opportunity to avoid a disaster. The outcry against this new rule has been substantial so far, as it appears that every team has been impacted by it in just a few short weeks. In fact, NFL referees should throw that flag liberally over the next two weeks to ensure that the rule gets the attention it deserves. It will also give the league plenty of video to review to determine how stringently they want this rule enforced.
It’s unlikely that the league will get rid of the new rule, especially in an era of increasing concern about head injuries in the league. However, the league could instruct the referees to be more liberal with the application of the rule. In the same way that offensive holding happens on nearly every single play, the refs could adjust to only enforce the most egregious examples.
Fans and media should stay upset
Fans and the media should stay loud and upset about this rule, though. By continually bringing attention to it, the likelihood that the league will adjust increases dramatically. The NFL has shown that they will respond and adjust if the public outcry is significant enough.
Fans and media personnel should post, analyze and criticize every poorly called instance of this new penalty. Let the NFL know it needs to get the rule addressed before the games start counting.
Time to consider penalty reviews
This has been talked about in the past, but this rule change could finally bring this to light. Many fans and media have advocated for allowing 15-yard penalties to be reviewed given how dramatically they can impact the game. Normally, this has been thought of in the light of pass interference, but this could be the rule that pushes the league over the edge.
If this helmet rule is here to stay - and it most certainly will stay in some form or fashion - the league may have to make 15-yard penalties reviewable to keep the rule from impacting games and their outcomes.
Given the hard hitting nature of this Falcons defense, this rule looms as a potential dark cloud over guys like Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen and Deion Jones. Thankfully, the rule is getting universal scorn which will hopefully lead to some adjustments. Let’s hope they get it adjusted in the next few weeks, before the games really count.