February 12, 2019

The NFL is Too Concerned About Player Safety

Matt Saperstein '21

It is no secret that football is one of the most dangerous sports to play. The National Football League is attempting to make football a safer sport, but in recent years, the league has become too concerned about the safety of its players.
The NFL has added numerous rules over the past few years in an attempt to decrease the number of injuries, most of which have been focused on limiting defensive players from harming offensive players.
Before the 2018 season, the NFL added an additional rule stating that initiating contact with another player by lowering one’s helmet is a foul. This new rule was built off the previous rule, which stated a player cannot initiate contact with the crown of their helmet. The NFL changed this rule so there would be fewer strong hits by a defensive player using their helmet to hit another player.
One well-known play that could have been a cause of this rule change was Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins’ brutal hit on Brandin Cooks in Super Bowl LII. After catching a 20-yard pass from New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Cooks turned up the field looking to gain yardage. On Cooks’ fourth step up the field, Jenkins lowered his helmet to strike Cooks at the bottom of his helmet. This hit caused Cooks to miss the rest of the game. According to the new rule change, that hit would have been illegal.
This significantly changes the game, as for many years, defensive players have made numerous impactful tackles using their helmets to tackle offensive players to end plays. Now, defensive players who have been playing in the NFL for many years are being forced to learn a new way to tackle.
This way of tackling has the impacts received by offensive players significantly weaker. Now, defenses are at a considerable disadvantage, as the tackling rules are much stricter and defensive players must be cautious to tackle correctly.
If this specific tackling rule is not followed, a 15-yard penalty will be called against the defense and a player could possibly get ejected from the game. Especially in the fourth quarter, one of these fouls can completely change the course of a game, as it pushes the offense up the field and leads to an automatic first down.
Throughout the 2018 regular season, few of these penalties were been called. However, many teams in addition to NFL executives believe that in the coming years, as reaction and focus on the new restriction dies down, more will be called.
Even more restrictive rules were added prior to the 2018 season.The NFL expanded on the roughing the passer rule to help protect quarterbacks. The addition goes into detail about the specifications of an illegal hit on the quarterback: “When tackling a passer who is in a defenseless posture (e.g., during or just after throwing a pass), a defensive player must not unnecessarily or violently throw him down or land on top of him with all or most of the defender’s weight.”
This change has made sacking the quarterback much more difficult, as now pass rushers will be penalized whenever they initiate a quick, strong hit on a quarterback that, just with the momentum used against offensive lines, most of the defender’s weight is on the quarterback.
The rule change forces defensive players to hit a quarterback slower and with less force. Many fans are angered by this decision as big hits against quarterbacks in games are not only entertaining, but can completely change the amount of momentum an offense can have.
In addition to fans, this rule change has upset many defensive players in the NFL as this season, many roughing the passer penalties have been called.
“Roughing the passer calls are absolutely out of control,” five-time Pro Bowl defensive end JJ Watt said.
Watt, who has played for the Houston Texans for eight seasons, thinks this rule is much too strict.
“We can’t touch the quarterback,” inside linebacker Bobby Wagner of the Seattle Seahawks said. Like many others, Wagner feels the NFL is too concerned about the safety of the quarterback rather than the integrity of the game, resulting in sacking, a major part of defensive strategy, is partially eliminated from football.
It is true that hundreds of injuries occur in the NFL each season and these new rule changes will help decrease this brutal number. However, the NFL has used the previous rules for many years, entertaining many fans with spectacular defenses such as the 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers and the 1985 Chicago Bears. Theses defenses were able to succeed because of their players’ outstanding ability to tackle offensive players and sack the quarterback.
Due to these rule changes, fans may never see defenses as good as these top defenses from years ago and as a result, games will be more focused on offense rather than defense. Although this may be more entertaining to fans, it will begin to hide one of the main components of many great football teams: a skillful defense.

If protective rule changes continue to be made, football will become a one-sided competition.

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