Vikings vote in favor of controversial rule on crown-of-helmet shots
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PHOENIX -- Despite their publicly stated preoccupations, the Minnesota Vikings came around on the controversial rule preventing both offensive and defensive players from delivering a blow with the crown of the helmet that passed 31-1 here at the NFL meetings on Wednesday morning.
"When they began to talk about spinal injuries and neck injuries regarding helmet-to-head clashes and showing some of the clips that they showed, that information, plus the data, really made a difference," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said, minutes after the rule passed.
"So, you take out some of the things that you have concerns about and say, what's best for any player who is going to be involved in a head-on collision?"
Frazier confirmed the Vikings voted in favor of the rule, which covers contact that occurs "clearly outside the tackle box and more than 3 yards downfield," Green Bay Packers president Mark Murphy said. Only the Cincinnati Bengals voted against it.
League officials showed video of the plays in question -- including footage of the NFL's MVP Vikings running back Adrian Peterson -- and presented data showing concussions occur at a higher rate on passing plays and running plays outside the tackle box.
According to Murphy, there also was evidence given that dementia and other post-retirement health issues issues occur more frequently "at the speed positions -- wide receivers, defensive backs, especially cornerbacks, and also running backs, just because you've got the full-speed collisions."
Considering the league is being sued by thousands of retired NFL players for failing to disclose the dangers of concussions, it's not surprising Commissioner Roger Goodell made the new rule his primary health and safety initiative at these meetings.
"We are aware that there are running backs who have been critical of this, current ones and former ones," Murphy said. "But I think there's a sense that this is bigger than that and what we're really trying to do is really protect players, not only from concussions now but to ensure that they can have a good quality of life in the future."
Violations would result in a 15-yard penalty from the spot of the foul, according to Dean Blandino, the NFL's vice president of officiating. Players also could be fined or suspended.
Rich McKay, chair of the NFL's competition committee, said the committee studied every play from Weeks 10 and 16 last season and identified 11 plays that would draw a flag under the new rule. There were no repeat offenders and no obvious injuries.
Coaches raised concerns about enforcement and how to coach the technique in a meeting on Tuesday, and the matter was tabled. But it passed quickly on Wednesday morning before the meetings ended around 10 a.m.
"The way it was explained to us, the officials really believe that they can officiate this," Frazier said. "So, you have to wait and see, see how it goes. But the data that they provided was overwhelming. It's probably the -- it is the right thing to do."
Al Riveron, the league's senior director of officiating, said officals will be encouraged to have a conference and determine whether the play meets three specific criteria: the player squares up, lowers his body and delivers "a forcible blow" with the top (crown) of the helmet.
The hope is to have three eyes on such plays -- one each from the front, back and side -- to make sure they get the call right. It won't be a reviewable play.
St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher, who sits on the competition commitee, said the changes to the kickoff rule "worked" and reduced injuries thanks to altered conduct.
Asked what happens if both the offensive and defensive players lead with their heads, Murphy paused for a second.
"What you're really looking at is when the one person initiates the contact," Murphy said, "and we're also looking at where they're square up and makes a conscious decision to use the helmet as a weapon."
Another fear is players going low will contribute to more leg and knee injuries.
"You're going to still have some of that," Frazier said. "But the overriding factor regarding player safety sort of overrode some of those concerns. When you talk about the neck and the head and some of the information that was given, you say, 'OK, you know what? This is bigger than just one aspect.'"
The rule was Proposal No. 6 on the docket and all six passed.
• Proposal No. 1: Coaches no longer will be assessed a penalty for throwing the challenge flag on a play that can't be challenged (AKA the Jim Schwartz rule).
• Proposal No. 2: Teams no longer can line up more than six men on one side of the snapper on field goals or extra points. That violation results in a 5-yard penalty. Also, blocking low or pushing a teammate toward the line of scrimmage is considered unnecessary roughness and results in a 15-yard penalty.
• Proposal No. 3: The tuck rule has been "modified" (read: eliminated). If a quarterback loses the ball while trying to tuck it back to his body, it will be ruled a fumble, not an incompletion. (The New England Patriots and Washington Redskins, who employ former Oakland Raiders GM Bruce Allen, abstained from voting.)
• Proposal No. 4: Fullbacks, H-backs, F-backs and tight ends now can all be legally issued numbers in the 40s. (This is just a cleanup because so many teams use H-backs.)
• Proposal No. 5: Peelback blocks (e.g. the hit that injured Houston linebacker Brian Cushing) against defenseless defenders are now illegal both inside and outside the tackle box. A violation will result in a 15-yard penalty. Offensive players previously had been allowed to block low toward their own end line.
All rules must receive 24 of 32 possible votes to pass.