Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

Officiating: Head-To-Head Contact

2013 AFC Championship Game
Baltimore Ravens 27 at New England Patriots 13
First-and-10, New England at NE 39, 12:55 of Q4

(Shotgun) 22-S.Ridley right tackle to NE 47 for 8 yards (31-B.Pollard). FUMBLES (31-B.Pollard), RECOVERED by BAL-97-A.Jones at NE 47. 97-A.Jones to NE 47 for no gain (62-R.Wendell). NE-22-S.Ridley was injured during the play. The Replay Assistant challenged the fumble ruling, and the play was Upheld.

After several dangerous but legal hits in yesterday's Baltimore-New England game (particularly Bernard Pollard's hit on Stevan Ridley), there has been some focus on head-to-head contact that is illegal and contact that is legal. There are two common situations where head-to-head contact is illegal:

Helmet-to-helmet contact with a passer (12-2-8):

(c) A defensive player must not use his helmet against a passer who is in a defenseless posture -- for example, (1) forcibly hitting the passer's head or neck area with the helmet or the facemask, regardless of whether the defensive player also uses his arms to tackle the passer by encircling or grasping him.

Helmet-to-helmet contact with a defenseless player (12-2-7):

It is a foul if a player initiates unnecessary contact against a player who is in a defenseless posture.
(a) players in a defenseless posture are ... (2) A receiver attempting to catch a pass; or who has completed a pass and has not had time to protect himself or has not clearly become a runner.
(b) prohibited contact against a player who is in a defenseless posture is: (1) Forcibly hitting the defenseless player's head or neck area with the helmet, facemask, forearm or shoulder, regardless of whether the defensive player also uses his arms to tackle the defenseless player by encircling or grasping him.

The NFL currently protects players in situations where they are unable to react a defender and (generally) the defender has an opportunity to purposefully cause serious damage. The rationale behind both of these rules is that the defender has the ability to make the decision to tackle cleanly with the torso and arms, and that failure to do so should be penalized; A quarterback is largely stationary and being attacked from multiple angles, and the quintessential defenseless receiver is devoting his entire attention to catching the ball, not the safety bearing down on him. Obviously the reality is more complicated (and the rules regarding passers more draconian than those regarding receivers), but these rules recognize that in certain situations the chaos of the football game subsides to a degree and tremendous power to attack in a safe or unsafe manner is put in the hands of one or more defenders. While the rules do occasionally result in penalties for minor conduct, officials are trained to not second-guess themselves on safety fouls and know that the league will never mark them down for calling a marginal personal foul.

Contrast a defenseless receiver or a harried quarterback with a standard running play. Near the line of scrimmage, there are gigantic linemen attempting to shove other linemen around, possibly a fullback, tight end or other blocker, and a mass of defenders converging in an attempt to make a play. Away from the line of scrimmage, defenders are juking and running at a high rate of speed and defensive backs are trying to square and tackle in the open field. If the rules against helmet-to-helmet contact are in place to discourage a defender from taking advantage in a dangerous fashion, the lack of a rule for ball carriers is a tacit acknowledgment that in most situations the defender does not have the same opportunity to deliberately cause mayhem.

Complicating this point is that the defenders aren't the only ones using their helmets as weapons. Carriers frequently lower their heads to provide a smaller target to tackle or, in Ridley's case, to provide extra power when attempting to overrun a defender. This has led to a sparse few calls to outlaw helmet-to-helmet contact altogether. It is possible; high school ball is making moves in that direction, and safety rules tend to percolate up from lower levels to the pros. However, in practice the limited sanctions on offensive players using their helmet as a weapon are basically ignored, so it is impossible to gauge if any rules change is having real effect.

The other and more fundamental problem with this approach is that there is no moment of advantage for either player in most situations. The action surrounding the carrier is far more difficult to predict, and significant portion of the time a carrier leading with his helmet makes contact with a defender's torso, which is only a danger to the runner, or a defender attempting to tackle low butts heads with a player attempting to defend himself. Every game would be refball, until players simply ran completely upright the entire game, which would look ridiculous and lead to some awful football. The rulebook includes a few rules against a defender leading with a head against a player's body (generally the rules against launching and spearing), but they are incredibly difficult to enforce in real time and are precisely the sort of rules that the media and fans eviscerate the officials for calling.

Personally, I think the league is looking at the problem backwards. Instead of merely trying to prevent damage to the players' heads (although they should probably be working harder on that, too), the NFL should be looking at ways to construct a helmet that is less likely to be used as a weapon. The helmet, firmly strapped in place, connected to a series of tough bones through a small veneer of tissue, and constructed of a hard plastic composite is easily the most rigid part of a player north of his cleats. It is going to be used to spear, and launch, and rough the passer and take out a receiver or runner. The cases involved are too marginal and the penalty too small compared to the potential gain for the unscrupulous player. That is why players on both sides are using their heads as battering rams, and that is why we're seeing such horrific but legal plays as we witnessed on Sunday.

Comments

1
by QCIC (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 4:56pm

I do find it odd how quickly the outrage about this sort of thing has ramped up considering that the facts about it really have not changed much, and it has been going on for decades.

Yes we have more medically rigorous definitions now, and a name (CTE), but in the 80s people knew boxers and hockey players and football players could end up "punch drunk". No one should be surprised that being repeatedly concussed is terrible for you.

5 years ago that is a great hit on Ridley. Now you would think from about 40% of the reactions that Pollard pulled out a gun and shot him on the field.

Unless you change the rules of the game quite a bit players re going to be smacking helmets into each other. The helmets are simply too big and have little else to hit.

I am fine with pretty substantial rule changes, but most football fans do not. So we end up with the current bizarre and inconsistent rules environment combined with some wishful thinking about better helmets somehow fixing all of this (they might help a bit), but a lot of the damage is simply caused by the amount of acceleration the brain undergoes, and a helmet can only mitigate that so much.

3
by AnonymousA (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 5:27pm

There are a lot of complicating factors:

1) Pollard has a history of causing serious injuries to Patriots players. This might be statistical noise, but it's an easy starting point for a "dirty player" argument.

2) The NFL has tried to imply that the game is not about hitting people with your head and that, via rules changes and enforcement, that element of the game can be removed. Seeing Pollard lead with his head and make helmet-to-helmet contact, then being told by the refs "yep, that's legal!" makes it clear this isn't the case today. The fact that people say things like "ran completely upright the entire game, which would look ridiculous and lead to some awful football" makes it clear that this probably isn't changing.

3) This play was ugly. It was one of the worst helmet-to-helmet shots I've seen.

4) This play was incredibly important. This sends the message "if you want to win football games, you should injure, possibly permanently, other players by hitting them with your helmet. It is a legal and highly effective strategy." The announcers' reaction was notably affected by this -- they didn't want to rag on Pollard, because the hit was legal, but they didn't want to complement him (and when do announcers STOP complementing players who have just made important plays?) because it looked so bad.

Given all this, I'm not surprised at the reaction. Perhaps 5 years ago this was a "great hit," now it's an embarrassment to a sport that wants its audience to believe it's more than human cockfighting.

4
by QCIC (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 5:36pm

2) "Seeing Pollard lead with his head and make helmet-to-helmet" That was way more on Ridley than Pollard. His head has to go somewhere. Defenders cannot magically suck their head in like a turtle.

3) "It was one of the worst helmet-to-helmet shots I've seen." Something this bad happens nearly every single game in the NFL.

4) There is absolutely nothing new about that message.

Why on earth did you ever think football wasn't human cockfighting? That is totally what it is. It is simulated tribal warfare. That is why the fans are so irrational, and relate to big faceless corporations who mostly just rip the off. It was never anything other than that?

23
by williams_482 (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 10:03pm

There was a notable amount of time during which Ridley looked like he could have been dead. That does not happen nearly every single game.

To be clear, Ridley was 100% at fault for that, and I, as a fan of both the Patriots and the well being of NFL players in general, hope he never does anything like that again. It damn well is more than "human cockfighting." It is a game of physical confrontation and strategy after which, and this is important, the players should not be expected to give up their long term survival.

5
by PatsFan :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 5:38pm

As I've said elsewhere, I'd not shed a tear if Pollard were seriously injured (multiple times, even).

But this one isn't his fault. Yes, he was going head first, but he was very low -- aiming for Ridley's midsection -- and Ridley bent wayyyy over and lowered his head into the path of Pollard's helmet.

7
by Gus (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 6:06pm

As with the rest of the hits on Patriots players that Pollard takes flack for being dirty on, this hit was legal and the result of the play was a crappy fluke. If Ridley tries to spin away from him instead of ducking into the hit, there never would have been helmet-to-helmet contact. There was no malicious intent unless you think tackling someone low with your (right shoulder going first, too) is some kind of affront.

Welker caught a cleat in the ground on a perfectly legit tackle back when Pollard "injured him." Gronkowski dragged Pollard for two yards on his back before the falling Pollard landed on his ankle as the big TE went down. Pure coincidence.

The Brady hit is more questionable, but this "Bernard Pollard guns for the Patriots players" stuff has gone too far - the guy is a hard hitting safety, and he tackles a lot of people. He draws too many personal fouls because they'll flag practically any hit on receivers these days--sometimes for good reason, but to attribute any anti-Patriots agenda to him beyond winning a football game is just silly.

Why is the hit on Ridley considered so much worse than the hits on Pitta and Reed that weren't even flagged? I get that everyone was worried for Ridley, but the Patriots hit just as many people in the head that game, arguably more viciously, and didn't even get flagged for it. When the Ravens make a legit tackle that has a tragic result, though, Pollard is a a thug.

8
by Gus (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 6:07pm

Forgot to note Brady's hilarious attempt to castrate Ed Reed with his cleat. Nice slide, Tom.

10
by CBPodge :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 6:24pm

One more thing: at the time, Pollard's hit on Brady wasn't illegal. It was rightly changed by the league to make that illegal, but at the time it wasn't an illegal hit.

34
by fmtemike :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 8:50am

I don't believe Pollard was intentionally trying to injure Brady, he was trying to make a play, or at least a hit, but at the time the hit certainly WAS illegal--the so-called Brady rule had actually been implemented after Kimo VanO got Carson Palmer in the same way. Pollard wasn't penalised because the officials ruled (wrongly) that he was being blocked into Brady, on the grounds the blocker still had minimal contact with the sole of his shoe.

40
by BB (not verified) :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 12:39pm

Nope. the rule wasn't changed until after the Brady hit even though, as you note, the Palmer hit had happened earlier. This is why it is called the Brady Rule.

41
by BB (not verified) :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 12:50pm

Ok, I did a bit of googling and discovered we are both right. The Kimo Clause already existed, but the Brady Rule strengthened it and encouraged officials to throw flags for low hits.

20
by PatsFan :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 8:35pm

Gronkowski dragged Pollard for two yards on his back before the falling Pollard landed on his ankle as the big TE went down. Pure coincidence.

More like pure BS. He was grabbing and twisting Gronkowski's ankles and had done so earlier in the game as well.

28
by Gus (not verified) :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 12:52am

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yumR6US2m58

If you actually watch the video, rather than spitting out blatantly homer comments, you'll see Pollard has him around the waste, and then falls because Gronkowski does not immediately go down. The lowest Pollard gets, arm wise, is around Gronk's right shin at the end of the play. It was his left leg that got injured, and it's clear it wasn't premeditated.

29
by Gus (not verified) :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 12:52am

I meant "waist." Fun typo.

2
by Silm (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 5:19pm

I find it hilarious that there is an article being written about the Ridley hit. He was a running back. I've been reading everywhere outrage by misguided Patriot fans who somehow think the Ridley hit was some sort of H2H illegal hit. Again, hilarious. Its pretty fluky that he would be knocked unconscious. Runners make those plays 30 times a game. The odds of it being a knockout blow when the runner knows its coming is highly unusual.

9
by Independent George :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 6:19pm

Did you actually read the article, or miss the part where he says it's completely legal hit?

6
by lko213 (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 5:51pm

How does anyone who watches football not understand that Pollard's hit on Ridley was legal? If a defender tackles a runner, and their helmets collide, that's legal. This happens regularly. Is it violent and unfortunate and harmful to the participants? Yes. Is it legal in the rules of professional football? Yes.

26
by JimZipCode :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 12:27am

Ryan Clark laid this same hit on Willis McGahee in the 2008 AFCC. McGahee was carried off the field, I think (might be mistaken about that).

30
by Jerry :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 2:11am

Clark was down for a while, too, although he went off under his own power.

11
by abc123 (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 6:29pm

You guys really aren't reading are you, he states that its legal and goes on to say that only a helmet redesign can totally do away (maybe not totally but materially) with hits of that sort because players will lead with the toughest past of their bodies, by definition, if you wear the current equipment, that's the helmet. He doesn't specifically mention it, but I assumed he meant Ridley doesn't lead with the helmet if he's wearing a Steve Van Buren leather job.

12
by Mike Kurtz :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 6:57pm

Thanks for actually reading it.

I actually think some way of making the exterior of the helmet ... spongy, for lack of a better word, might be the way to go. It affords extra protection and makes it a less viable weapon; if your helmet compresses as it's hitting the football, it's less likely to knock it out, so fewer players will lead with the head in an attempt to force a fumble. Etc.

14
by Nic (not verified) :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 8:16pm

Cheese-heads!

19
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 8:27pm
21
by PatsFan :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 8:39pm

The problem with spongy is it means there will be friction between helmets. You absolutely cannot have that. If there is any friction between helmets there will be horrific neck torques from glancing blows, of which there are many in football.

Now, if you can come up with spongy and super-slick you might be on to something...

24
by Mike Kurtz :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 11:21pm

I'm not materials engineer, but couldn't you have some sort of thin coating on the outside of a helmet? Or I guess just cover the helmets in grease or something.

I think my larger point isn't that I have the answers (I don't), but that players are using the helmet as a weapon and the league is responding by trying to minimize the damage of that weapon, rather than changing the players' calculus.

25
by PatsFan :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 11:31pm

Well, they could make a H2H hit be a 30yd penalty plus automatic ejection (though if they did that they'd have to start calling it on ballcarriers lowering their heads like in Ridley's case).

I have to think that'd change players' calculus pretty fast.

33
by Podge (not verified) :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 6:16am

Or introduce a sin-bin for it as well? Say have them sit out the next 10 defensive plays or something. I think if you make the penalty too big the refs might be wary of calling it, but making it more long-lasting might have an impact.

27
by Insancipitory :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 12:36am

There's a helmet design which does purport to deal with the torques invovled, it's a little bigger and it sits on a layer of padding inside the helmet that has little straps connecting it to the harder outter shell, so that in a blow that delivers a lot of torque the helmet slides, then shifts back spreading out the impulse.

Probably the biggest immediate thing they could do is force every player to use a custom fitted mouthguard, afaik the mouthpiece is optional.

But there's nothing wrong from tackling the problem from a multitude of angles. Maybe ffensive players should draw 15 yard dead ball penalties for intentionally dropping their heads (as opposed to falling) into contact. The mouthguard thing should be done this week, unless someone has a time machine. The helmet thing should be studied to make sure new technologies perform as expected and don't introduce new, unanticipated, worse results.

31
by Jerry :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 2:18am

As you and some of your favorite defensive players have noticed, the league is trying to change that calculus. Ryan Clark, for instance, has tried to "improve" his technique, but at game speed, heads still sometimes end up in inconvenient places.

47
by e. (not verified) :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 3:46pm

Paul Zimmerman floated the idea of taking the face mask off helmets to restore inhibition against leading with the head at least as early as 1985 (when the second edition of Thinking Man's Guide to Football; i never read the original edition).

54
by RickD :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 10:50pm

"The problem with spongy is it means there will be friction between helmets. You absolutely cannot have that. If there is any friction between helmets there will be horrific neck torques from glancing blows."

I'm having a real problem seeing why this is inevitable.

What if they had some Nerf-like outer layer, instead of the hard reinforced plastic?

I'm just not seeing how torque should be an issue. You make the outer layer out of something ablative. So the helmet gets damaged instead of the head. And you have a supply of helmets to replace the ones that get too damaged.

60
by MJK :: Thu, 01/24/2013 - 12:17am

OK, here's the deal regarding helmet design. I've actually been studying this professionally for the last few years. A few relevant points:

* The most damaging thing that can happen to the head is a rapid rotation. Not torquing the neck, but rotating the head. Rotational energy is far more damaging to brain tissue (and concussion inducing) than energy from linear impacts. So anything you do to reduce linear impacts that increases the chance of rotation is a bad idea.

* A soft outer shell falls into this category. If two hard plastic helmets collide, they glance off one another. This causes some impact and some rotation. But if the helmets are soft, they stick together, causing less linear acceleration but much more severe rotation. This is bad. A small fraction of hits would be less damaging, but by far many more hits would become more damaging. A lot of hits that do nothing right now would start causing concussions.

It's not just an issue of the friction coefficient between the helmets (which would relate to the comment about having a slick outer skin). A softer helmet will have more contacting surface area, which will also increase the reaction forces between them, even if you keep the friction coefficient low.

* Another poster is correct...there is a new helmet that just came out that attempts to address the rotation issue, by having an inner lining loosley coupled to the outer shell to transmit less rotational energy. While I haven't studied this helmet specifically (our study concluded a little over a year ago), I think it's a great idea. It won't solve the problem--direct hits on the side, front, or back of the helmet will still snap the head around--it will reduce rotation from glancing blows, which will help in many hits. It may be that combining this with a soft outer shell might be viable--but it would take a lot more study to be sure.

Another option that's been talked about is to couple the helmet in some way to the shoulder pads. This obvioulsy isn't popular because it limits a player's head mobility, but it would probably the the most effective way to reduce head injury.

* You're never going to solve the problem. There will always be some hits, no matter how well you protect the head, where there will be sufficient rotation or linear acceleration to damage the brain.

35
by jweller :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 10:41am

Something like the helmet that Mark Kelso wore, with the extra padding. I've wondered why this hasn't really become more popular. It seemed to work.

http://images.machinedesign.com/images/archive/71739headgear3j_000000496...

13
by atinm :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 7:56pm

The reason Pollard's hit on Ridley is raising such fervent wishes in New England for something bad to happen to Pollard's knees, or head is not just the Ridley hit. There was also Pollard's hit on Welker that was actually penalized for 15 yards after which Welker was a little shaken. I blame the dropped ball on that hit. Welker is a warrior, but even warriors get hurt. And the Ridley hit followed that and it is easy to get upset even if this time it was Ridley who lowered his head though it seemed more like he lowered his head to provide smaller target as obviously the Ravens were intent on hitting hard. I actually think Tom's raised leg was for a similar reason - I think he was afraid of an unnecessary roughness hit from another Raven. I wondered if they had an unofficial bounty going on between the players . . .

18
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 8:25pm

And Patriots fans wonder why no one likes them.

22
by atinm :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 8:56pm

Nah, we don't. We know it is just envy at their consistent excellence over the last decade.

32
by Lance :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 4:01am

No, no. It's really just the fans.

36
by atinm :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 10:49am

Yes, I did mean the fans too - it is envy that the Pats fan base has got spoiled over the last decade or so (which we have, now only winning Super Bowls is good enough for us, which is crazy given that some of us remember a time when the Pats won 1 game in a season - we have way too much of a good thing going with BB/TB). We are spoiled, and definitely upset when our team loses to a hard hitting team because our offense isn't built for beating hard hitting defenses like BAL (which the NFL has been discouraging so it makes sense to be more finesse than power), especially when some of the hits are borderline meant to decapitate, to smaller guys like Welker, Ridley or even Brady, who is not a big guy even if he is bigger than the average fan (remember, from Advanced NFL Stats, BAL is averaging 0.53 penalty yards per snap, the league's worst rate. That's 1.9 standard deviations worse than the mean. NE is tied for 6th best, at 0.39 penalty yds per snap).

48
by Stats are for losers (not verified) :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 4:10pm

There is no sweeter sound than the whinging of the Pink Hats after a loss.

49
by Insancipitory :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 4:46pm

Yes there is: When the Patriots' "fans" boo their own team. It's simply hilarious. They're at a game watching one of the most consistantly stellar teams of all time and they're not having any fun, and they're not going to let anyone else enjoy it, because it's not the superbowl and they're not up by 3 TDs.

50
by atinm :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 5:00pm

Being a Pats fan for decades, I consider it sad rather than hilarious when Pats fans boo the Pats. I remember when they won 1 game in a season - these are the good days when our team is consistently in the top few teams of the NFL. I hope my son is as lucky by the time he's old enough to understand football.

51
by Stats are for losers (not verified) :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 6:50pm

It's tricky to catch that moment, so delicately sandwiched between when things seem to be going fine and when everyone has left the stadium early.

53
by RickD :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 10:44pm

These are the winners who show up on bboards and demand that Welker be released, since he dropped a pass Sunday and dropped a pass in the Super Bowl.

So of course, that means he's not trustworthy.

Of course, that's the play that killed their "momentum" and somehow forced them to start giving up 10 yards/play on defense.

43
by 0tarin :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 2:06pm

Were the Ravens really the only ones that laid out some borderline hits in this game? Your argument seems to stem from the fact that the Ravens play "physical defense", while the Pats are more finesse-based, but it seems like both sides are capable of some dangerous blows.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rHqE8pjCDFY

45
by atinm :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 2:36pm

Yes, all teams are capable of dangerous blows but the Ravens have received the most unnecessary roughness penalties in the NFL (16 in 18 games in 2012). Bernard Pollard is at the top of all players with the most unnecessary roughness penalties and Ed Reed is up there too. NE is number 9 (with Carolina, and Raiders) with 7. League average is 5.5 so BAL is ~3 times more unnecessary roughness penalties than the average.

46
by 0tarin :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 3:15pm

True, although I do think those figures tend to get skewed by reputation, both of the team and of the individual players. Both Reed and Pollard have developed a reputation for aggressive hits (in fairness, an earned one), which often makes it feel as though they're more likely to get called for such things when compared to the media darlings like the Pats or Colts. While the Ravens certainly do play a physical style, I think the raw numbers aren't as indicative of dirty play as they appear.

But, of course, that's all subjective.

15
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 8:17pm

"After several dangerous but legal hits in yesterday's Baltimore-New England game (particularly Bernard Pollard's hit on Stevan Ridley)"

You mean Steven Ridley's dangerous hit on Bernand Pollard. Ridley was the aggressor.

16
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 8:19pm

"The rulebook includes a few rules against a defender leading with a head against a player's body"

The rulebook is not limited to defensive players. Offensive players can also spear.

17
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/21/2013 - 8:24pm

"Personally, I think the league is looking at the problem backwards. Instead of merely trying to prevent damage to the players' heads (although they should probably be working harder on that, too), the NFL should be looking at ways to construct a helmet that is less likely to be used as a weapon."

Go take a look at the case reports of what happened to players in the equipment from the 1950s.

http://books.google.com/books/about/Head_and_neck_injuries_in_football_m...

Simply, players today get concussed. Players used to suffer organic brain damage or die. That's what you're asking players to return to.

38
by MatMan :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 11:39am

As I understand it (and I'm no scholar on the subject), when the rigid helmet was introduced it was to prevent one of the big injury issues of the day, which was skull fractures, not concussions.

I agree 100% with what a couple of posters above had to say: as long as the head/helmet is the player's most effective weapon, they will use it as such regardless of the rules. Someone needs to find a way to "soften" the helmet so that it a) still mitigates concussion danger while b) not reverting to the old problem of skull fractures. Surely that technology exists today.

And for all the NFL's hooting about payer safety, they (along with the NFLPA) have been awfully reluctant to mandate safer equipment (helmets, mouth guards, etc.). I guess that's because rule changes are less likely to result in a lawsuit because "the mandated equipment didn't protect me enough." That's really just a guess, but it makes sense to me.

BTW, down linemen suffer terrible long-term injury by simple repetitive micro-trauma to the brain on almost every play. I understand that one rule change that would lessen the likelihood of that less much less-publicized concussion threat is banning the three-point stance.

42
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 2:05pm

"Someone needs to find a way to "soften" the helmet so that it a) still mitigates concussion danger while b) not reverting to the old problem of skull fractures. Surely that technology exists today."

1. Helmets get used as weapons because they pad the blow to the head sufficiently that doing so does not injure the striker
2. If you no longer pad the blow sufficiently that doing so does not injure the striker, then the helmet is no longer effective.

The primary injury created by hard helmets was neck injuries, because players started to spear or butt. That was dealt with via rule change, because there's still not really a good way to protect the neck from head-down loading without completely sacrificing head/neck mobility. Players used their heads as weapons before helmets were even a thing -- your head is still the hardest thing on the playing field in football, even if you're playing naked.

\no jokes

56
by Eggwasp (not verified) :: Wed, 01/23/2013 - 6:51am

You could always ban helmets and by extension, high tackles. You could also ban tackles that are purely "hits" - ie with no attempt to wrap up the ball carrier. That's rugby - there are still hard hits and serious injuries, but not as many "as-hard" and "as-serious" perhaps (at least from tackles - the most dangerous part of rugby (union) is when the scrum collapses).

It would change the game a lot, but then that seems to be the end-result of whatever is planned here.

I guess the biggest change may come from the violence of short-yardage run-blocking rather than tackles.

57
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 01/23/2013 - 10:15am

These all make the assumption that rugby doesn't also have a concussion problem.

It does. As does hockey, where the helmet is markedly not used as a weapon.

58
by LionInAZ :: Wed, 01/23/2013 - 3:18pm

Hockey, of course, has sticks -- and an even more notorious problem of players deliberately attempting to injure opponents.

62
by TomC :: Thu, 01/24/2013 - 3:50pm

Hockey concussions never involve someone hitting someone with a stick.

63
by Dean :: Fri, 01/25/2013 - 9:05am

*Rarely.

64
by LionInAZ :: Fri, 01/25/2013 - 6:13pm

Rarely, I agree. Most of those concussions come from players ramming their opponents into the boards.

My other point was that hockey players don't need to use their helmets as weapons because they have sticks to slash, hook, and trip opponents with, all of which can lead to injuries.

61
by MJK :: Thu, 01/24/2013 - 12:21am

You could pad the helmet effectively, but also wire it up to give the player a sharp, punitive shock whenever he hit someone with it.

:-)

39
by DenverCheeze (not verified) :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 11:58am

Totally agree here. There are helmets available that are better at preventing concussions than the currently used helmets in the NFL, but because of contract limitations and the significant amount of $$ that would be lost to huge sponsors these helmets are not used as much as the corporate sponsored helmets. It all comes down to the almighty dollar.

The fundamentals of tackling in the pre-high school level state to NEVER lower your head to make a tackle. If you cannot see what you are tackling, you cannot tackle period. This is forfeited in the NFL because the potential gain (big hit, emotional boost, intimidation) outweighs the risk of missing the tackle for the individual making the tackle.

37
by Eggwasp (not verified) :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 11:21am

"Every game would be refball, until players simply ran completely upright the entire game, which would look ridiculous and lead to some awful football."

or be called Rugby

44
by Raiderjoe :: Tue, 01/22/2013 - 2:24pm

Aliens have tehcnkogy to make great helents. The space sutis they wear protect against skull fractures and concussions. Do not believe they have shared the technology or materials with U S. Government yet. But NFL might want to look into it anyway. Some foreign materials found at site of Roswell spaceship crash in 1951and certainly some parts from the helmets but bulk was burned

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by RickD :: Wed, 01/23/2013 - 1:50am

"the NFL should be looking at ways to construct a helmet that is less likely to be used as a weapon."

Agree completely.

Alternatively, they could just allow the players to bring brass knuckles on the field. All while wondering why so many people get seriously hurt.

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by PatsFan :: Wed, 01/23/2013 - 3:58pm

Relatedly, Junior Seau's family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the NFL.