The NFL has played 32 games during the regular season so far, through two weeks of play. And, strikingly, football still pretty much looks the same that it did the year before, and the year before that, and the year before that, and on and on, through every rule change that we constantly see get passed.
The league passed a new rule that outlaws hitting an opponent by lowering their helmet. The assumption by many was that this was going to radically change the way the game was played. Frankly, this was something that some coaches even believed, and they were worried. They expressed their concerns throughout the offseason.
Through two games, however, the lowering of the helmet penalty has been flagged just two times. Mike Florio already did the math for us, and that has resulted in an average of 0.0625 lowering of the helmet penalties called per game, through 32 games played.
There have been 91 offensive holding penalties called so far. 82 false starts have gotten flagged. 34 defensive pass interference infractions and 34 defensive holding calls have drawn penalties. There have even been four leverage penalties called so far, which is when a player on a field goal blocking unit uses the body of another player to gain height in an attempt to block the kick.
And I’m not even sure if this means that two penalties were called. According to nflpenalties.com, it has only been called once. Pro Football Talk merely writes that “there has only been two penalties under the new rule prohibition”, not that two penalties have actually been called.
Within the first two weeks of the preseason, the penalty was been called about 1.5 times per game. That would be about 48 times over 32 games played, so the frequency of the penalty being called has been reduced 24 times since then.
There are likely multiple reasons for the significant drop, not the least of which would be the fact that there are different, more experienced players routinely on the field. hundreds upon hundreds of players who could have possibly been penalized are no longer even on an NFL team, players that were more likely to struggle to play within the rules.
The league did revisit the rule after the second week of the preseason, officially unofficially tweaking it to emphasize a limitation on the calling of the penalty in situations that only involve incidental contact.
Whatever the reason was, it’s clear that the league doesn’t intend for this to be a game-changer—even though that’s pretty much what they said was the intention of the rule in the first place. Of course, the desired change was altering the way players use their helmets.