NFL Players and Coaches Struggle to Adjust to Revised Tackling Rule

Kingston Perry, Class of 2022

The 2018 NFL season is set to kickoff on September 6, and it is poised to be one of the most controversial in recent memory. With National Anthem protests continuing to be a significant cause of disagreement between players and owners, along with the slew of rule changes that will likely force a change in the way the game is played, there will be no shortage of contention surrounding the League both on and off the field. 

One of the biggest updates to the NFL rule book is a new tackling rule, designed to protect players by prohibiting contact initiated with the crown of a player’s helmet. The rule was created in response to injuries suffered through previously legal, yet improper, tackling techniques. 

For example, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier injured his back during a routine tackle in which he led with the crown of his helmet last season. 

Shazier’s injury required spinal surgery and he was not able to walk for about eight months. Shazier intends to return to the football field, but will be out for the entirety of the 2018 season. 

The NFL created the new tackling rule with the intention of preventing injuries like Shazier’s, but its implementation has raised questions. 

Some players and coaches have vocalized their confusion and frustration over the rule change, as many typical in-game tackles are now considered illegal. 

It is also unclear to many what exactly the new rule entails. Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman and San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman have expressed their concerns during the first two weeks of preseason play.

“I don’t know how you’re going to play the game. If your helmet comes in contact? How are you going to avoid that?” Norman said.

“It’s ridiculous. Like telling a driver if you touch the lanes, you’re getting a ticket. It’s going to lead to more lower-extremity injuries,” said Sherman. 

Players assert that lowering one’s head while tackling is a natural movement, and that the NFL’s attempt to police this will lead to a worsened on-field product comprised of slower play and

more penalty flags. 

Through two weeks of the NFL preseason, 51 flags have been thrown because of the helmet rule. Additionally, these fouls can be game-altering, as breaking the new rule costs a team a 15 yards and an automatic first down, with excessive or repeat offenders at risk

of ejection.

In response to the widespread confusion, the NFL has distributed a video to all of its 32 teams that further explains what classifies as a foul under the new rule. It includes examples from the first two weeks of the preseason in order to clarify proper and improper tackling techniques and applications of the rule.

The league has also made it clear that it will not be reversing the rule at any point during the 2018 season. However, revisions to it seem likely at some point given the current pulse of the league.

Whatever the case, the new tackling rule is sure to have lasting implications on the game, with the league motivated, or at least appearing to be motivated, to find solutions to its injury problem through legislation. 

Now, players will have to make a conscious effort to change the way they tackle if they want to avoid being penalized. The new tackling rule is here to stay for the foreseeable future, and the way professional football is played will have to change.

Contact Kingston Perry at [email protected].