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Point of Veau: "Crown of Helmet" Rule Makes Sideline a Fierce 12th Defender

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Point of Veau: "Crown of Helmet" Rule Makes Sideline a Fierce 12th Defender

The sideline has alway been called the "12th man" or "12th defender" in football, but like a rookie making a jump from his first to second year in the NFL, the sideline suddenly got beefed up overnight.

As part of the new "Crown of Helmet" rule implemented Wednesday at the NFL's owners meetings, the sideline is looking a whole friendlier to the defense and a whole lot scarier to the offense.

To be fair, the new rule addition applies equally to both offensive and defensive players. Neither can strike an opponent with the top of his helmet outside the tackle box, but the new rule is notable for its protection of defensive players after years of rules being instituted to protect those on offense.

As a safety that stood at 5' 8" during my playing days at the University of Technology-Sydney in Australia, tackling technique is a topic near to my heart. When taking on opposing ball carriers I rarely, if ever, had the advantage in size.

I learned very quickly that I had to win the leverage battle, bend at the knees and hips, hit low with my head up and take out an opponent's legs. If I didn't, I'd get bowled over.

The sideline was also my best friend. You learn to play angles when you're a safety and forcing ball carriers to the edges of the field helped to limit the options they'd have in the open field.

Safeties in the NFL are a whole lot bigger and faster than myself, and I can see how they'll be grinning when taking on a running back barreling down the sideline from here on out.

Running backs will have to be very wary about lowering their helmet as they prepare to be hit. If it's viewed that the running back is initiating contact with the helmet, they risk being flagged.

So what's a running back to do? They can run upright and absorb the contact, which isn't a very appealing option, or they can run out of bounds to avoid contact.

Think about when it's time for an offense to run its four-minute drill. Imagine that offense is up by a field goal late in the fourth quarter looking to run out the clock.

A running back takes the handoff for an off-tackle run. He bounces out toward the sidelines but necessarily has to stay in bounds to keep the clock ticking. He can't initiate contact, and he can't run out of bounds. Are we in the era of seeing a running back slide like a quarterback?

It's a slippery slope the NFL is traversing. And indeed, it's all about how the rule is enforced.

Former NFL general manager Charley Casserly said Wednesday on the NFL Network said he'd like to see referees penalize only flagrant instances of the new rule, err on the side of not throwing a flag and allow the NFL to dole out fines if necessary.

That's perhaps the common sense way of enforcing the new rule. But is that realistic to expect when referees will be making the rule a point of emphasis?

The NFL is in a Catch-22 situation. It wants to enact player safety initiatives, especially in light of concussion lawsuits being brought against the league, but it also can't let its sport lose the physicality that gained it popularity.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (10) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

MarkinMadison's picture

I think part of this is going to come down to how well the NFL defines the "crown" of the helmet and how well they train the refs to recognize when the "crown" is being used. I can understand why backs are leery after being taught to lean forward as they run, but I think there is a big difference between leaning forward and lowering your head. RBs should not be doing that anyway for the safety of their own necks. If this looks like what we used to call "spearing" by defenders then I think this is a good change. If it looks like too much more than that then not so much.

maxginsberg's picture

Wouldn't this post be more complete with some pictures of a young Brian Carriveau lined up at the safety position? :)

Bearsstillsuck69's picture

Not to mention that you create potential for new injuries because backs can't lower their pads to protect their legs outside of the tackle box. What will happen to the stretch play?

T's picture

Now my head hurts.

FITZCORE 1252'S EVO's picture

Jeff Fisher explained what they had in mind for the new rule yesterday on NFLTA, and it made sense. That said, I think this rule blows and is only going to make the game harder to watch, and play... Oh, and officiate. I know he's concerned about liability, but I'd love it if ol' Rog could just leave the effing game alone.


Brando's picture

As long as they don't get too ridiculous with enforcement I think it's a good idea. As far as Goodell, it goes both ways with players suing the league left and right. Not that they are out of line but if you have that threat hanging over you, you have to act. This and other rules are the unfortunate result. Could it be handled better? Probably but it's not so we'll have to live with the results. :(

DrewTheDraftGuru's picture

Wow. I don't think I've ever seen Brian Carriveau write such a terrible article. Are you kidding me with this "RB's will start sliding" argument? How about RB's start running like they've been taught since they were children: Lower the shoulders and keep the eyes on the defender. Is that really so hard? These RB's just need to stop looking at the ground...that's it.

I also don't think it's a big deal if the sideline is a defender. It'll just change the game. Maybe that keeps running more on the inside. Change isn't always bad. I expect more from your next article Brian.

Brian Carriveau's picture

It's not as if I expect a running back sliding to become a common occurrence. But if and when it does happen, I could see it happening under the circumstances I described.

PackerBacker's picture

Agreed. The RB needs to keep the clock running so he drops before getting hit instead of putting the helmet down and driving in bounds. Could totally happen.

Stroh's picture

Any RB slides loses his man card and is immediately released. Pure and simple!

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