On My Soap Box: The NFL is Killing the NFL

I like to keep up on the news. I routinely read articles from trusted news sources, sporadically watch the news on TV, and on the rare occasion I'm in the car and a news update is given I like to listen. I don't usually care about celebrity relationship news, the random daily happenings in my local area, or puff pieces about animals awaiting adoption or new animal births at zoos. Instead, I tend to focus on news about sports, economy, politics, science, and archeology. 

Recently, I ran across this article about the NFL and their efforts to add a new rule to the game. Read the original article here.

In a nutshell, the NFL powers-that-be are looking to add a rule banning a specific type of tackle, similar to the no horse-collar tackle rule they implemented back in 2005. This time they are looking to ban the "hip-drop tackle" which is basically when a defender grabs the ball-carrier and let's their legs go out from under them. This causes the defender's hips to fall to the ground and thus his weight and momentum can drag the ball-carrier down with him. In addition to the physics behind the tackle, there is an opportunity for the ball-carrier's legs to become entangled with the defender's body during the process to further help the tackle succeed.

According to the NFL, such techniques are 25 times more likely to result in an injury to the ball-carrier than a normal tackle. But what is a normal tackle? The NFL admits that they are struggling to define exactly what constitutes a "hip-drop" tackle which makes me question the accuracy of their injury statistics. How can the NFL claim such a high risk of injury being contributed to a specific technique when the NFL is unable to clearly define that that technique is?

Now, as someone who played what is admittedly a violently physical sport that resulted in numerous injuries to my body, I can appreciate the NFL's concern for player safety and the desire to find ways to allow players to enjoy a longer and more fulfilling career playing a sport that they have devoted so much of their life towards. However, I think the NFL is being a bit over-the-top with some of their rule changes that create penalty situations that negatively impact the sport as a whole. After reading this article, I worry that this rule change could be one such change for the worse.

I use the QB slide rule as a prime example. Implemented in 1985, the rule dictates that a quarterback holding the football can slide at any time. Once the QB starts to slide the play is automatically over. It was intended to help protect QBs from large defenders putting big hits on them and risking injury to every team's top investments. However, the wording of the rule leaves a lot of opportunity to punish defenders for playing the game. The definition of a slide is somewhat vague and can be anything from a full on feet-first slide reminiscent to a baseball runner sliding into a base to a QB simply dropping to a knee while running. The problem with this rule is that if the play instantly ends when the QB begins their slide it is physically impossible for a 200-300 pound (or more) defender to arrest their forward momentum in that same instant. The leads to a volume of penalties being called on defenders that give the offensive team several yards of progress and an automatic first down. The rule does not give any allowance for the type of contact made by the defender during a QB slide, only that the play ends the instant the QB begins to slide and any contact after that is a penalty.

No matter what technique a defender uses to execute a tackle, there is no stopping that penalty from occurring if the QB chooses to slide at the absolute last second. Most penalties I've observed from that rule come from a defender already in motion to tackle a running QB, usually beyond the line of scrimmage, and the QB quickly dips down in a quasi-slide motion when the defender is inches away from making inevitable contact. In those cases, the rule does little to protect the QB because the contact was already imminent. If anything, it increases the QB's risk of injury because it requires the QB to intentionally lower his upper torso into what would be the legal contact zone of the incoming defender. QBs mostly take shots to the head and neck when being contacted during a slide in these events when that contact would have been applied somewhere more agreeable had the QB stayed upright.

On top of that, the rule forces the defenders to recognize and react to a dead ball scenario before the officials on the field. Again, the play is automatically deemed over when the QB begins his slide. This is in stark contrast to every other live ball scenario that only ends when the referee blows their whistle. If the referees don't have time to react and respond to the QB slide then how is it fair to expect the defenders to react and respond in the same timeframe while moving at top speed and/or already in motion toward the QB? I mean, I don't know about anyone else but I know that if I jump forward that I cannot stop my forward momentum at an instant and either reverse or redirect that momentum at will. Physics doesn't work that way but the NFL seems content to penalize defenders because of it, all in the name of player safety.

But the thing about this new rule that really stood out to me is when the NFL referred to the runners as being "defenseless" in protecting themselves when tackled in such a manner. I'm sorry, when is a runner not defenseless when being tackled? The whole point of running the ball is to defend against being tackled but the act of tackling someone is to render them defenseless against your tackle. Even if I execute a perfect form tackle under the current tackling guidelines, as demonstrated here, the runner is still defenseless. In the old days, it was taught that you squared up and put your facemask between the numbers on your target's jersey before before hooking your arms under their butt and lifting them off the ground, typically causing them to fall backwards. However, today's technique is to render the runner ineffective by making contact with your shoulder and then using your arms to lift the runner up but not drive them into the ground. But either way you slice it, a runner suspended in the air or a runner driven into the ground is a defenseless runner.

Runners are taught to protect the ball. When contact is unavoidable, runners are instructed to cover the ball with both arms to minimize the risk of it coming loose and turning into a fumble. If my arms are protecting the ball, what is protecting me? What defense does a runner have at the point of contact that they wouldn't already have available? Regardless of if the contact comes from the front, the back, or the side, a tackle of any kind is designed to render the runner defenseless and to stop the runner from advancing the ball.

I think the NFL latching onto this idea of a defenseless runner needing protection from the defense opens the door to a very slippery slope. Sure, the NFL can make whatever changes they want, its their league and are free to implement anything they choose but viewing a runner as defenseless during the act of running the ball is absurd. Yes, there is a potential that their legs and ankles could become entangled with the defender and cause injury. But you know what, so can picking a runner up and holding them in the air free for other players to slam into until the referee has the chance to blow the play dead with their whistle. So is picking up players where their flailing legs may cause the defender to trip and fall on top of the runner when the pair collapse to the ground.

Hell, linemen are routinely injured while blocking because someone else is blocked into them or falls onto an outstretched leg. How long until the NFL deems these linemen as defenseless and starts enforcing penalties for effective blocking or pass rushing simple because it poses a threat of injury? The entire game of football is a threat of injury. Quit trying to regulate injuries out of the game by making it A) less exciting to watch and B) no more safer in the process!

That is all. I'll get off my soap box now. We return you to your regularly scheduled program.

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