We’ve already twice written about concerns over the new NFL helmet rules, their hastily put together addition that outlaws any player to lower their helmet and initiate contact to any part of the opponent. The obvious difficulty of trying to enforce that rule with any sort of consistency and the general confusion of what is and isn’t a penalty.
The Pittsburgh Steelers felt that problem first-hand last night when Coty Sensabaugh was called for a “lowering of the helmet” infraction on TE Marcedes Lewis. Here’s the “penalty.”
Sensabaugh seems to make contact shoulder to shoulder. Sure, the helmet lowers, but if he doesn’t, he’s probably going to headbutt Lewis, leading to an obvious and more egregious penalty that has been and should continue to be a penalty.
Objectively, it’s a weak hit, and impossible to ask Sensabaugh to change his angle as Lewis drops his head at the last second. There’s no player safety concern here. It’s a mild collision and a soft tackle in any other era than this one.
But Sensabaugh was flagged and the Packers got to march down another 15 yards, a total gain of 38 yards. Green Bay went from their own 35 to the Steelers 27 in one swoop.
The Packers broadcast, the one archived by the NFL, doesn’t show it, but the local KDKA broadcast showed a clearly frustrated Mike Tomlin for the penalty, joining the rest of us in agreeing there was nothing wrong with the play and it shouldn’t have drawn a flag.
I’m all for player safety. 100%. The NFL legislating out the helmet-to-helmet hits on defenseless receivers was a rule change long overdue. I was skeptical of the NFL’s changes to kickoffs in the name of player safety but looking at the results, I think they did a good job. They convinced me.
But this? This? This is madness.
And while I’ll repeat myself again, because if I don’t, there will be 20 comments pointing it out, hopefully the refs and the league use the preseason as their own trial run to iron out the rule.
That, of course, puts trust in the NFL to be competent. And they’ve failed that mission so many times before.