Through the first seven weeks of the NFL season there has been a great deal of controversy surrounding the new rules, instituted by the league, that are aimed at protecting players.
Last weekend was no exception, as we saw a number of controversial calls. Two calls in particular really stood out, the first and most publicized was a helmet to helmet penalty that occurred during the Monday night game between Baltimore and Jacksonville. During the first drive of the third quarter, on a 3rd and 7, Ravens safety Bernard Pollard was flagged for an unnecessary roughness penalty for a helmet to helmet hit.
The penalty gave the Jaguars a first down and ultimately led to a field goal that put Jacksonville up 9-0. The play provided a big momentum shift and turned out to be a very large play in a close game. The call was extremely suspect, at best, and the helmet to helmet contact was very minimalistic.
The other call, that I believe was absurd, was a call made during the Seahawks and Browns game late in the first quarter. With 54 seconds left in the quarter Kam Chancellor was flagged for an unnecessary roughness penalty for leading with his helmet. Chancellor made a great sack to stop Cleveland on third down. But instead of a sack and a punt, the result was a 15 yard gain and a first down.
Unlike the first example this hit was in no way malicious, the play in the Ravens game looked to be violent and in all reality it was. This play however, was not a vicious hit and Browns quarterback Colt McCoy was wrestled to the ground by Chancellor, not blown off his feet as was the case on Monday night.
The call in this case was leading with the helmet, when Chancellor went in for the hit he dropped his head which is now a penalty. Even though he did pound McCoy in the back or knock his head off, the simple movement of dropping his head resulted in a penalty and a first down. It was in no way a dangerous play, but because of the immense pressure put of referees by the league the call was made.
The refs, so far in 2011, have been so obsessed with enforcing these new rules that anything vaguely resembling a helmet to helmet hit or leading with the head is automatically flagged, regardless if the play was dangerous or not. The result of this mindset has produced flags on nearly every play involving a hard hit, without regard for the technicalities of the rules. The mindset thus far has been if it looks bad it’s a flag.
The result of this kind of refereeing is that defensive players are now unsure of how to play the game. As a result of this, physicality is lacking and offenses have been shredding opposing defenses throughout the year. Teams who once looked unstoppable defensively are unable to play the same style of football. Receivers can run freely over the middle, knowing that if they take a big hit it will most likely result in a first down and a 15 yard penalty.
The calls are affecting the game and changing the overall complexion of the NFL. Refs are throwing a ridiculous amount of flags, and games are constantly shifting as a result of suspect calls.
This is one of the worst things that can happen in any sport, referees are there to facilitate the game not to manage it. The result of the enforcement of the new rules in the NFL is that now, more than ever before, refs are directly affecting the outcome of game after game.
The bottom line is the league needs to come up with a solution. I understand the intent of the new rules, the goal is to protect the players and that is something that must be accomplished. But the alteration of the entire sport is not the answer. Football is a violent game, as it has always been. It is impossible to change this fact and short of playing flag football players will continue to get hurt.
These new rules do make sense, the players need to be protected and helmet to helmet hits are a very dangerous part of the game. The problem arises in the enforcement of these rules. Referees obviously don’t know what to flag and what not to flag, so the result has been to penalize everything.
One of two things need to happen; the refs need to be clearly advised as to what to call and what not to call, what entails a malicious play and what does not. Or the league needs to take over and start doling out fines and suspensions.
Instead of letting the refs make split second decisions that alter the outcome of games, the league should make decisions regarding helmet to helmet hits, leading with the head, and other similar issues. This way the players responsible will get penalized instead of the whole team. And the plays can be observed as many times as necessary to make sure that the play was dangerous and that it needs to be addressed.
Refs cannot be expected to get these calls correct in the middle of a game with split seconds to make a decision. These calls are clearly affecting the NFL and changing the dynamics of the game. Countless games have already been affected and more are sure to come. The league needs to develop a solution and they need to do it quickly, before the Super Bowl is decided by a questionable unnecessary roughness penalty.