The NFL continues to confuse and baffle its audience with its new rules, which have been on full display through two weeks of the preseason. The league’s controversial new helmet rule is just as confusing as its catch rules, which were unclear for years and still aren’t perfect.
On Saturday, in a game against the Houston Texans, the San Francisco 49ers were on the receiving end of multiple penalties from tackles that looked completely legal. Many would call the tackles “textbook,” but I personally don’t like to refer to them as such because textbooks can and are supposed to change. The NFL is supposed to grow and, yes, change.
I am fully on board with efforts to make the game safer regarding head injuries — people like Chris Borland retired for a reason — and if that includes fundamental changes to the way football is played, then fine. I’ll be on board for that.
This, though? Whatever the hell this is? No thanks.
That’s 49ers running back/returner/special teamer Raheem Mostert making an excellent play, turning his head to the side, and earning a 15-yard penalty for his efforts.
I am not in the business of getting upset about preseason football, but it is practice for the referees, too. As I write this, I believe the 49ers are still playing the Texans, so I don’t even know the outcome of the game. I just know that terrible preseason calls very quickly turn into terrible regular season calls, which inevitably lead to terrible postseason calls.
And none of that is as important as a player potentially sustaining a serious head injury. Nothing should top that in importance. I just fail to see how the implementation of this new rule, especially with the speed of play today and the relative lack of speed at which referees are capable of processing information, helps anybody.
My SB Nation colleague and retired NFL lineman, Geoff Schwartz, wrote earlier this month that it wasn’t time to panic over the new helmet rule, and he has some very persuasive reasons why: the calls are more frequent to make players take the rule seriously, adjustments in frequency are likely to be made before the regular season, and more.
But at the same time, you have these kinds of plays where absolutely nothing wrong was done by the player, and of course the penalty is not reviewable because the NFL is still clinging to some kind of hilariously infuriating sanctity regarding their referees. The league is wearing those referees’ inability to follow a full-speed football on its sleeve, and that’s the problem with this rule, as far as I’m concerned. I’d rather watch a safer sport with fewer big hits that is called by a crew that isn’t wrong with such a high frequency, or at least isn’t essentially considered infallible by the league.
I don’t want the NFL to stop trying to change things. I don’t want them to ignore player safety. I don’t agree that “players agree to it so who cares about CTE” is a statement that any sane person should make. But it sure seems like the NFL isn’t quite sure what it’s doing right now, and that’s a problem.