Senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron has released his first full weekly rules interpretation video. These videos are primarily targeted to broadcasters and other media covering the NFL, but they also provide context to official interpretations of the rules. These are key this season especially with several new rules changes.
This week’s video focused solely on the new use of the helmet rule.
The video confirms what new NBC rules analyst Terry McAulay stated during the Hall of Fame game that the league will be compiling a database of plays to review in order to show the officiating crews what to call and what not to call and the criteria to look for. For now, we’ll look at some of the more notable calls that have caused an uproar on social media and elsewhere.
Before breaking down some of the calls from last week, it should be briefly noted that in 2013, the NFL instituted a crown-hit rule that prohibited forcible contact with the hairline or crown of the helmet. The rule initially stated that the player had to have a direct line of contact at their opponent and was later narrowed to include coming at a player from any angle. In 2018, that rule was deleted entirely and in its place the following was supplemented in Rule 12-2-8:
It is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent.
To meet the criteria for a penalty under the new rule, the following 3 criteria will be looked at with greater scrutiny than in the past.
- Lowering the head to establish a linear body posture
- Has an unobstructed path to the opponent
- Contact was avoidable
Executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent also added that ejections will be handed out if warranted and are reviewable by NFL GameDay central.
A2) If a player lowers his head to establish a linear body posture prior to making contact with the head, has an unobstructed path to his opponent, and could have avoided contact, he may be ejected. All ejections are reviewable by central replay in GameDay Central. #TV23Chat pic.twitter.com/oslggHdSYS
— Troy Vincent, Sr. (@TroyVincentSr) May 18, 2018
Using this criteria, and the now available film from week 1 of the preseason, we can begin to get a clearer picture and understanding of what the refs will be looking for and flagging if necessary.
Under the new rule the following three plays would classify as an illegal hit.
Colts at Seahawks, 4th quarter, 5:48, Seahawks ball 2nd and 3 on the SEA 11
Former Colts safety Shamarko Thomas (no. 40) was ejected from the game for the hit above on Seahawks receiver David Moore (no. 83). In the play above, Thomas came in for a late hit that satisfied all 3 criteria above: the linear body posture by lowering his head, an unobstructed path to the receiver, and unavoidable contact. Moore dropped the pass before Thomas hit him down the sideline. Thomas was the first player ejected from a game since 2009 for a non-fighting unnecessary roughness penalty.
Additionally, this hit is also a foul for unnecessary roughness on a defenseless player (and would have been penalized as such last year) since Moore did not have time to protect himself from a hit to the head or neck area.
Titans at Packers, 4th quarter, 10:28, Titans ball 2nd and 5 on the GB 33
The new rule doesn’t just apply to defenders though. In the officiating video, Riveron stressed that “this rule is inclusive of all players everywhere on the field.” In the play above, Titans running back Dayln Dawkins (no. 39) takes the hand-off up the middle and upon hitting the point of attack at the line of scrimmage, lowers his head and drives straight through Packers linebacker Greer Martini (no. 58). Dawkins draws the flag for lowering his head and initiating contact on an opponent as an offensive player.
Falcons at Jets, 1st quarter, 3:51, Falcons ball 2nd and 10 on the ATL 37
In the spirit of “all players everywhere”, a player need not have the ball or be attacking the ball carrier to receive a flag under this new rule. In the clip above, Falcons running back Ito Smith (no. 25) motions out of the backfield out to a receiver position and goes for a block as his receiver catches a pass. Smith lowers his head, creates that linear body posture, and initiates contact on Jets linebacker Darron Lee (no. 58). Additionally, this is also an illegal blindside block as Smith came in from the side to hit Lee in the head or neck area.
And finally, the purpose of the database is not to just show the officiating crews what’s illegal. In the preseason, there will presumably be some hits that are close to meeting the criteria and will still be flagged but will not meet the criteria of the illegal hits above.
Chargers at Cardinals, 4th quarter, 15:00, Chargers ball 1st and 10 on the ARZ 29
In the play above, Cardinals safety Travell Dixon (no. 27) was flagged for lowering his helmet and initiating contact to an opponent. However, this hit in the regular season likely will not be an illegal hit and Riveron cleared up the confusion around this play and other legal plays like it from preseason week 1 that distinguish between legal and illegal hits. Dixon’s hit on Chargers receiver Geremy Davis (no. 11) was not considered illegal because while Dixon did lower his head, he did not initiate contact with his head, but instead drove through the receiver with his shoulder up into the chest of the Davis. It should be stressed that referee mechanics may not always allow them to see the correct angle of the hit but with more time seeing it live, the officials should be able to clear up any confusion after a quick conference before retracting a flag.
All these plays and more are covered at length in the officiating video below.