Here is the LINK to NFL.com that carries a better explanation of the rule that has everybody up in arms right now. Watch and listen to the video on that page it explains from the committee where they are going with it, and it’s great if you ask me.
Listen, as a fan I understand the complaint on this rule. But I don’t think the rule is being understood all that well. It’s not that a running back cannot attack a defender, even with his helmet leading into the defender. For example the Marshawn run featured above would not be a penalty… ever!
The rule (should) come into effect only in those rare instances when there is a 1-on-1, non-imminent collision in the open field (outside of the tackle box) and the running back launches himself to the chin/face of the defender. He doesn’t have to leave the ground, but when the back intentionally uses the CROWN OF HIS HELMET to dislodge the defender. It also protects (to some extent) defenders that are easing up, trying to avoid a late hit on the sidelines.
Basically that rare hit that everyone would cringe at and say “GOD that was dangerous, I hope either player is ok” (again OUTSIDE of the tackle box) is what the League is trying to eliminate. The problem with lowering your head is that it completely exposes your vertebrae and paralysis becomes a major possibility with momentum, especially if you get pulled to the ground and your neck is still bent downward. Trying to eliminate that to an extent is something I’m all for! But even in the instance of little Jacquizz Rodgers truck-sticking Earl Thomas in the NFC Divisional game, it wouldn’t be a penalty, because it happened inside the tackle box.
I don’t believe I’ve seen a Marshawn hit yet that should be called a penalty under the new rule. He uses his helmet but rarely in a 1-on-1 situation in the open field. He’d rather hit you with his entire upper body, run you over and keep trucking down the field. That should be entirely legal in all instances, according to the clarification by the league officials, as stated in that video. It’s also been stated that in a situation where the running back is trying to get across the goal line or the first down marker or taking on multiple defenders, unless it’s INTENTIONAL it should not be called. It’s supposed to save a “defenseless” defender from receiving an UNNECESSARY facial that could result in injury. If it’s a necessary maneuver it’s supposed to be deemed “incidental”.
A play that you could point to as a penalty under this new rule would be back in the Chicago/Seattle game, when Michael Robinson (FB) caught a ball in the flats and ducked his head, knocking out the defender on the sideline.
How that will play out in the eyes of the referee is to be determined, but the rule is not a bad rule, it’s a good rule and should also save a running back who would otherwise lower his head and result in instant concussion. Will it be applied well? Maybe not immediately, but hopefully sooner than later.