Remember that time the lowering the helmet rule was going to change the way that the game of football was played forever? Well, the NFL actually has not given up on that plan. Only they are not going about it in the way that was predicted.
The assumption was actually that there would simply be a barrage of penalties—perhaps a dozen or more per game—until players started getting the idea after losing tens of thousands of dollars in fines, and in the preseason it almost seemed as though it would go that way.
Through six weeks, however, the lowering the helmet rule has only been flagged six times. That is once a week, with roughly 15-16 games per week, depending on how many teams are on their bye week. “It does seem like the helmet rule is not a big issue. But that’s not the case. Yes, only six have been called”, former head of officiating Mike Pereira said.
But he did add that “seven more additional fines have been handed out”, and that is not even the ‘big thing’ that the league is working on behind the scenes. “But the big thing is, 72 warning letters have been sent out to players around the league because they got in a posture and almost committed a foul”, he said.
In other words, about a dozen times per week, a player who was not penalized nor fined for lowering the helmet to illegally initiate contact with an opponent has received a letter for conduct on the field that at least came close enough that the league felt it wise to advise them of how close they had come.
“They may have led with their helmet and either missed or made slight contact, not enough to be a foul”, Pereira clarified. “And what the league has done is take a very proactive stance by sending out this letter with a video explaining why it would have been a foul had they made the contact. So the league is really on top of this, and I think doing a great job approaching this, trying to change the way that players play the game”.
So while we are not really seeing the rule have much of an effect in games—even some obvious ones have not been called, such as those committed by running backs Kareem Hunt and Sony Michel—the league is still actively pursuing education on the rule behind the scenes.
The entire purpose of the rule is, in fact, to change the way that the game is played, to get players to stop performing acts that endanger their peers. Serving out warnings is one of the means by which they are pursuing this end.
Perhaps they could start doing that for some of the questionable roughing the passer penalties as well.