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Player lowering head to inflict contact now subject to 15-yard penalty and possible ejection

March 29, 2018 GMT

Time was, a ball carrier dropping his head and barreling through a defender was celebrated.

In the 2018 NFL season, it could garner a penalty and, in some cases, an ejection.

According to Playing Rule Article 8, introduced this year, it is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent. The player may be disqualified. Applies to any player anywhere on the field.

And it’s the last part that created instant waves Tuesday afternoon when the new rule was announced. Tacklers have long been instructed not to drop their heads as the best precaution in avoiding spinal injury — keep your head up and see what you hit is taught at all levels of the game.

We saw firsthand the devastating results that can stem from poor tackling technique in December, when Pittsburgh Steelers Pro Bowl LB Ryan Shazier tackled Bengals RB Gio Bernard with his head down, resulting in temporary paralysis, spinal stabilization surgery and likely the end of Shazier’s playing career.

Yet, from quarterbacks sneaking in short-yardage situations to bull-dozing power backs pummeling hapless defenders in the open field, offensive players have long received a pass when it comes to this.

Not anymore.

The NFL claims its new rule isn’t targeting, per se, like in college. Instead, it’s a strengthening of the previous rule outlawing helmet-to-helmet hits in response to a rise in concussions in 2017 and helmet-to-helmet collisions over the previous five seasons.

The league estimates that 1-of-2 helmet-to-helmet hits results in a concussion. The new rule, then, which is enforceable via 15-yard penalties and possible ejections Is directed at lessening these kinds of unnecessary hits.

We applaud the NFL for its attempt to increase player safety in every way possible. But it’s tough to know (A) how rigidly officials will enforce this rule; and (B) the effect it will have in spurring change, especially with the offensive players who were previously lauded for it, unlike the defenders who’ve been increasingly warned about it in recent years as concussion and CTE awareness has increased.

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