Steelers’ Coty Sensabaugh: ‘We are all learning’ to deal with NFL helmet rule
Coty Sensabaugh might be the least likely Pittsburgh Steelers player to become the test subject for the NFL’s new helmet rule.
Through six NFL seasons and 86 career games, Sensabaugh never accrued a personal foul for a late hit, unnecessary roughness or unsportsmanlike conduct.
Yet Sensabaugh will go down in the books as the first Steelers player to violate the new NFL rule that outlaws the use of a helmet or lowering of the helmet to initiate contact. It applies to offensive and defensive players.
Sensabaugh, in his second preseason with the Steelers, was flagged late in the first quarter Thursday of the team’s preseason game in Green Bay. He was called for lowering his head on a 23-yard completion to tight end Marcedes Lewis. The extra 15 yards put the ball on the Steelers 27 and led to a touchdown that gave the Packers a 24-14 lead.
Sensabaugh laughed Tuesday when asked what he thought about the play.
“It was a weird call, but I think we are all learning -- players and refs included,” Sensabaugh said. “It’s just something we all have to work through and just keep moving forward with.”
Sensabaugh didn’t agree with the ruling or the notion he used his helmet to tackle Lewis.
“I didn’t,” he said. “But in real time, it’s going fast. We’re all human. I expect it to get better on calls like that.”
At issue was Sensabaugh dropping his head before using his shoulder to hit Lewis, while safety Morgan Burnett approached from the other side.
“I didn’t talk to the refs about it at the game,” Sensabaugh said. “I just watched it on film after and came to my own conclusion.”
The helmet rule has been heavily criticized by players and coaches. NFL officials distributed a video to teams explaining the rule and how it will be applied this season. But after the backlash in recent weeks, the league reportedly is updating its video tutorial and will distribute it to teams at the end of the preseason.
“It’s a process,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “I’m not ringing the alarm bell. I don’t think our players are ringing the alarm bell. We’re just simply working to play within the rules and gathering information as it is given.”
The standard for invoking the new rule is threefold as included in the NFL operations manual:
• Lowering the head (not to include bracing for contact)
• Initiating contact with the helmet to any part of an opponent. Contact does not have to be to an opponent’s head or neck area -- lowering the head and initiating contact to an opponent’s torso, hips, and lower body is also a foul.
• Making contact with an opponent (both offense and defense).
The helmet rule has resulted in 51 flags, including 43 against defensive players, through the first half of preseason play. Through two weeks, plus the Hall of Fame game, all but five teams have been cited for violating the helmet rule. The Tennessee Titans and Philadelphia Eagles are tied with five such penalties apiece. The Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears have been penalized three times, although the Bears have played three preseason games.
The Steelers are among the teams with one helmet-related penalty called against them.
“It’s a new rule and something we’ve all got to adjust to and get better at,” Sensabaugh said. “In time, I think it will get better just like all of the other rules we have to deal with.”
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