Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

04 Apr 2008

In Defense of the Stiff Arm

At the New York Times' Fifth Down blog I write about my objections to the new point of emphasis against stiff arms to the face. I also wrote this week about NFL Films, Phil Savage, why the Dolphins should start negotiating with the player they'll pick first, and how two NFL owners chose vanity over money.

Posted by: Michael David Smith on 04 Apr 2008

33 comments, Last at 09 Apr 2008, 8:03am by she's a witch!

Comments

1
by MJK (not verified) :: Fri, 04/04/2008 - 2:13pm

Watching a stiff arm is exciting, but it seems all to common that some RB's will actually grab and twist the facemask of the defender, as a means of not just of delaying the tackle but of hurling the defender to the ground to twisting their head, thereby risking injury to them and avoiding the tackle altogether. Corey Dillon used to do that quite a bit.

I always thought it was unfair that RB's were allowed to get away with contact that would be 15 yards and an automatic 1st down if any defender did it.

I like this point of emphasis. As long as they don't go too far. Stiff arms to the shoulder, stiff arms to the upper chest, and stiff arms aimed at these areas that accidentally cause incidental contact with the facemask without grabbing should still be allowed...

2
by JKL (not verified) :: Fri, 04/04/2008 - 2:39pm

Based on Savage's comments, I am guessing that he wasn't trying to call Bill Parcells to see if he wanted to play golf in Palm Beach, and not getting those calls returned.

I am guessing that the Dolphins and Browns actually had some discussions about the possibility of a trade for Anderson in the weeks leading up to Feb 29, but the Browns knew the Dolphins weren't going to sign Anderson to an offer sheet and give up the first overall pick and the first pick in the third round. When he stopped hearing from them as the deadline approached, that's when he got worried. He was already on record as saying that he didn't want a late first and late third for the player, but it would depend on the pick position.

3
by sexlexia (not verified) :: Fri, 04/04/2008 - 2:57pm

MDS gets a little beat up in the comments section of the link.

4
by Richie (not verified) :: Fri, 04/04/2008 - 3:08pm

It always cracks me up to read New York Times articles and see their abbreviation for the N.F.L. I think it's the only place I see it done with periods.

5
by Doug Farrar :: Fri, 04/04/2008 - 3:48pm

The problem with NFL Films isn’t so much a lack of relevance; it’s a lack of innovation in recent years. When the company hit its stride in the late 1960s, there was the glorious music of San Spence and the dulcet tones of John Facenda. Put that together with the trademark camerawork, and you had a combination that could make the 1972 Houston Oilers halfway interesting. Harry Kalas followed Facenda, but Films hasn’t had a signature voice in ages, and the days of truly compelling music are long gone.

“America’s Game” was a welcome respite from the endless barrage of samey highlights that made the league’s video offshoot little more than a production company. Where are the character studies? The team-defining stories? The truly strange stories and follies? Sadly, they’re in the back room, gathering dust.

When Ed Sabol started Blair Motion Pictures in 1962, he understood that it was going to take money to make money, As a result, he advised his people to let the film run like water, and to do whatever it took to bring a new look to the game. That spirit has seemingly been replaced by ... well, I don’t know what’s replaced it. But if they ever wanted to sock a real investment into making NFL Films its seventies-level best again, I think they’d be surprised at the response. Telling Steve Sabol that an “America’s Game” sequel was not going to happen? Not a good sign.

6
by Len (not verified) :: Fri, 04/04/2008 - 4:04pm

Another year, another rule named after a Cowboy. This one will be the Marion Barber rule.

7
by Michael David Smith :: Fri, 04/04/2008 - 4:04pm

Re 4, I type "NFL" every single time and then have to remind myself to go back and put periods between the letters.

8
by Richie (not verified) :: Fri, 04/04/2008 - 4:15pm

I think the problem with NFL Films is finding it on TV. I love the weekly "NFL Films Presents" on ESPN. But they show it late Sunday night in an unsecured timeslot.

9
by panthersnbraves (not verified) :: Fri, 04/04/2008 - 4:33pm

Re 1 - I agree - I think that the "grab mask, twist, and shove defender to the ground" move should be a penalty. "Hand on top/side of helmet"? meh - not so much.

The important question is "How does this affect Madden '09?"

10
by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Fri, 04/04/2008 - 4:34pm

"I always thought it was unfair that RB’s were allowed to get away with contact that would be 15 yards and an automatic 1st down if any defender did it."

Completely agree. Theres no reason an offensive player should be able to grab someone by the face, when a defensive player can't.

Theres too many rules in football that penalize the defense for doing something the offense does regularly.

11
by MCS (not verified) :: Fri, 04/04/2008 - 5:21pm

It all depends how much they emphasize. If the ballcarrier is allowed to re-direct the defender by pushing and moving the head, it should be a penalty. If the defender is diving and thehand goes onto the helmet to further direct him to the ground, I say that's OK.

If it's a penalty for the defense, it should be a penalty for the offense.

BTW, as a former FB, I love a good stiff arm. I couldn't out run the officials. I'm just sick of the NFL skewing the rules in favor of the offense.

12
by Michael David Smith :: Fri, 04/04/2008 - 5:27pm

"as a former FB, I love a good stiff arm. I couldn’t out run the officials"

Deep down, I think that's why I love the stiff arm, too. I was never fast enough to out-run anybody but was pretty good at breaking tackles.

13
by Bobman (not verified) :: Fri, 04/04/2008 - 6:32pm

#1 Hear hear! Once again, a Pats fan and Colts fan can agree on something. Will wonders never cease?

#6 Wait till the Romo-Simpson Rule that comes out next year. No idea what it'll establish, but it might include paparazzi, bye-week vacations outside the US, or magazine covers in non-sports publications (US, EW, People, whatever)--automatic 15-yard penalty to start the game.

After that in 2010 will come the Jerry Jones rule limiting owner facelifts to four per year or 20 in a lifetime, and in 2011, the inevitable Romo-Simpson Rule part 2, limiting contractual shenanigans that pay a player for games played only in non-community property states to avoid paying excess alimony in the event of a bitter, public divorce.

14
by Will B. (not verified) :: Fri, 04/04/2008 - 8:14pm

Romo-Simpson rule? How about a "Leinart-random beer bonging drunk chick" rule, barring the use of the non-throwing arm being used to elevate a beer bong while a drunk chick chugs away.

15
by JeffD (not verified) :: Sat, 04/05/2008 - 12:28am

I love the insight that Football Outsiders brings but was very disappointed to read that MDS supports offensive players committing penalties. While exciting and entertaining both of the links in the article are clear penalties. Both of the defenders were forced to the ground by their facemasks. If the defenders tackled the same way it would be at least a 5 yard penalty. MDS’s point appears that it is exciting so the NFL should let RB’s commit penalties. I think that it would be exciting to watch a DE give a QB a backbreaker while sacking him, should that be ok since it would bring the crowd to its feet? The stiff arm is not being banned nor the rules even changed they are merely going to start to assess penalties for violations now. How is this any different than enforcing the rules of contact downfield on WR’s the past few years? There is absolutely no penalty for a stiff arm which can keep a defender at bay as long as that stiff arm does not include a hand to the face which is illegal under the current rules.

16
by Houshmandzadeh (not verified) :: Sat, 04/05/2008 - 12:28am

How 'bout the Chad Johnson-TJ Houshmandzadeh "no whining about your contract" rule?

17
by MJK (not verified) :: Sat, 04/05/2008 - 11:09am

While I think MDS has some of the best insights and most piercing observations of almost any sports journalist, I also find myself disagreeing with his opinions the most out of all the Outsiders. Interesting.

The "no grabbing the facemask" rule is one that I am wholeheartedly, 100% in favor of. If I find things that can cause life-threatening or career-ending injuries "exciting", I'll watch pro wrestling (or I would have watched the XFL).

I also tend to be more of a fan of good defense than of good offense, though, so maybe I'm biased...

18
by Fergasun (not verified) :: Sat, 04/05/2008 - 1:11pm

Stiff-arms to the top and side of the helmets are still okay? I didn't see anything wrong with the linked you-tube videos... there was on grabbing or twisting of the facemask, just pushing... I think defensive players could do that if they thought a shove to the facemask would bring a ballcarrier down... neither Jones nor Weaver grabbed or twisted the facemasks.

19
by Michael David Smith :: Sat, 04/05/2008 - 1:33pm

Re 18, no, the point of emphasis says that stiff-arms like those in the linked videos should be flagged.

20
by Fergasun (not verified) :: Sat, 04/05/2008 - 4:45pm

Ah, okay MDS than I'm in complete agreement with you. If they were grabbing onto the facemask than it should be a penalty, otherwise it's all fair game.

We rarely see defensive players do this to offensive players because it would be poor defensive form. The stiffarm is a beautiful play.

The only time not having a flag for an offensive stiffarm has bothered me when the ballcarrier grabs onto a defenders facemask and keeps them away that way...

21
by justme (not verified) :: Sat, 04/05/2008 - 6:01pm

I kind of have to agree with MDS. There is a difference between the stiff arm and a defender grabbing the facemask because the ballcarrier is trying to run away as his facemask is pulled.

The stiff arm can cause some awkward twisting at the neck, but much less so because the defender is coming at the stiff arm; thus it's much harder as a ballcarrier to pull the facemask at an awkward angle and put weight into it.

A defender can put his weight into it much more so, and also can pull it at much more surprising, unexpected angles. A stiff arm is usually stright into the face so they have to know it's coming.

22
by JeffD (not verified) :: Sat, 04/05/2008 - 8:30pm

I just don't see why you need to put your hands in a guys face. I have seen several stiff arms where the defenders head is tipped high in the air. It is obviously hard to see where you are running in this position and appears rather dangerous.

23
by masocc (not verified) :: Sat, 04/05/2008 - 11:52pm

Re #15: Actually, it will now be a FIFTEEN yard penalty. The NFL has also just eliminated the 5 yard 'incidental contact' penalty.

That, coupled with this 'point of emphasis' could cause some rather ugly situations this year.

Oh, and can we get a thread to discuss all the rule changes and 'points of emphasis'? I'm still undecided on the no force out rule, and I hadn't even realized you couldn't defer judgement on the coin flip until the second half.

24
by Scott C. (not verified) :: Sun, 04/06/2008 - 5:31pm

#15, #23:

The 5 yard facemask penalty for the defense has been removed this year.
#23, it has NOT been replaced with the 15 yard penalty. Incidental facemask contact is now not a flag at all from what I understand. The D will only get a flag if there is grabbing or pulling.

I have no problems with an offensive player pushing off the head with a stiff-arm. its just not that dangerous as they are running away, not trying to tackle.
Grabbing the mask however is just bad no matter what.

25
by morganja (not verified) :: Sun, 04/06/2008 - 10:31pm

I have wanted the stiff arm to the head outlawed for years. It is a dirty, dangerous, classless play.

I have never understood why it is allowed in the first place. As a defender running full stride and launching yourself into the runner, a stiff arm to the helmet bends your neck backwards. The only reason it works is because the defender has to stop tackling in order to avoid injury.

It only takes an awkward footing before they are carting someone off the field, paralyzed for life.

When I played RB I never stiff armed to the head, always to the shoulderpads. I never wanted to be responsible for someone being seriously injured while they were playing the game right.

As a defender, I would get so pissed off when I got stiff-armed to the head. As far as I was concerned, that marked the runner as open game when it came to tackling and inflicting injury.

If they were going to try to deliberately injure me than I would stop holding back when my play could injure them. Running backs are extremely vulnerable in a pile.

26
by BDC (not verified) :: Mon, 04/07/2008 - 1:18am

25: So when a player performed a perfectly legal (and despite what you claim, not dangerous) move that you personally don't like, you resorted to performing illegal moves in an attempt to injure that player? Real classy.

27
by John Doe (not verified) :: Mon, 04/07/2008 - 2:58am

I'm torn on this. On one hand I'm sick of the NFL cutting down on the physicality of the game. On the other, I'm sick of the blatant preference show to the offense in these matters. If tackling a QB around the knees is too dangerous, than cut blocks are too dangerous.

I'm against most of the new safety (as in player protection) rules. The game was played that way for years upon years, by men making much less money for the risk they took. Injuries suck, but they're not playing golf out there.

At this point none of the changes have revolutionized the game. I shudder to think of what happens when LT (or AP, or any top tier RB) gets tackled at the knee and loses a season. Will the defense no longer be able to tackle low? How long will it be before they're not allowed to hit WRs while they're in the air because it can cause neck injuries?

Back on point, I can live with the general consensus that a RB should be able to hit the helmet or facemask but not grab and drag down.

28
by TomHat (not verified) :: Mon, 04/07/2008 - 11:05am

Hurray, one step closer to the National Flag-football League.

29
by morganja (not verified) :: Mon, 04/07/2008 - 11:28pm

Re: 26

It is a dangerous play. Maybe not to you sitting on a couch, but to a player in a game, yes.

Eye gouging is also dangerous. So is shooting people. But probably not to you sitting on a couch watching on tv.

I get annoyed by people who make outrageously stupid claims such as stiff-arming a guy in the head while he is tackling is not a dangerous play.

Are you just stupid?

You are aware that the stiff arm to the head forces the head up and back while the body is moving forward causing trauma to the neck and potentially fatal injury.

Ask a doctor about it. There are videos out there that detail exactly how dangerous it is.

And I didn't say I performed illegal actions to injure in payback. There are so many plays in which a person can potentially get seriously injured but players choose not to do it.

For example, you have a runner's foot in a firm grasp and you are twisting clockwise to bring him down. He gets hit from the other direction up high, getting spun the other direction. By keeping his foot firmly in your grasp while his body spins, you can do serious injury to the knee.

It is perfectly legal. It is also potentially dangerous. Exactly the same way that a stiff arm to the head is dangerous.

All I'm saying is that if a player does a dangerous play on me or my teammates, he can expect dangerous plays right back at him.

30
by Fergasun (not verified) :: Tue, 04/08/2008 - 12:31am

Please someone show me any injury that occurred when a defensive player took a stiff-arm to the head? We have Google, we have the Internet... how about one documented injury?

When thinking about football injuries of recent vintage... wouldn't you think the NFL should do something about kick-offs? Especially since an Arena-league player was killed in 2005, especially since the Kevin Everett injury, and especially since I've seen players covering kick-offs suffer numerous scary injuries the past couple of years.

So maybe the NFL should think about that before fabricating some rule that probably does little to prevent the next Kevin Everett, or other player really suffers a serious neck injury on a kickoff.

And after giving some thought about it... I know some will say, "those players got injured due to poor form"... but nearly every NFL player seems to have a propensity for hitting with the head down in such a dangerous manner... makes me cringe to see those hits get replayed over, and over...

31
by TomHat (not verified) :: Tue, 04/08/2008 - 1:52am

re: 30, Jeez, what is your problem? can't you see his weak antecdotal evidence, appeal to (unspecified) authority, indication of video evidence without references, and ad hominem attacks makes for a much stronger argument for a case with minimal backing than your said "examples" and "documented injuries".

On the plus side, maybe this will pave the way for the rule against the well known holding-the-guy's-foot-and-twisting-it-while-another-guy-twists-him-the-other-direction tackle, which is perfectly legal and that people apparantly do while the running backs are "in the pile".

32
by Michael David Smith :: Tue, 04/08/2008 - 9:41am

Re 30, you've made the key point. I've heard from a lot of people, on this thread, in the NYT comments, and in e-mails I've received about the stiff-arm post, and I've yet to see one example of a defensive player being injured by a stiff arm. If no one can cite an example of a player getting hurt by a stiff arm, doesn't it seem like this is a solution in search of a problem?

33
by she's a witch! (not verified) :: Wed, 04/09/2008 - 8:03am

I got stiff armed in the head once, & I got turned into a newt.

I got better.