Schwartz: Dealing with the Helmet Rule is ‘Easier Said Than Done’
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - The players seem to hate it more than the fans and even the NFL's coaches are starting to wonder what the league has gotten itself into with the new helmet rule.
The new legislation is supposed to penalize both offensive and defensive players for lowering their heads to initiate contact with their helmet to any part of an opposing player's body, a safety measure designed to protect two things: the players engaging in these types of action and the league from future litigation.
The enforcement of the rule has been a work in progress during the preseason and many have been frustrated with the officials, who now have an untenable amount of judgement calls put on their plate.
Statistically the number of calls haven't been overwhelming, with less than two of these penalties called per game but the harshness of 15 yards extends drives and shifts the game from a strategy standpoint, something that will be under a far greater microscope when the results actually matter and outcomes start to be affected.
"It's going to cost some people some jobs -- playoffs, jobs, the whole bit I'm guessing," Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said earlier this week.
The Eagles, along with Tennessee, have been penalized more than anyone through two preseason games and Jim Schwartz admitted the frustration his defenders have been showing at his weekly press conference on Monday.
"Yeah, we are going to have a meeting [Monday] afternoon where we look at a lot of the fouls – not just us, but across the league," the defensive coordinator said.
Numerous defenders players around the league are throwing up their hands and starting to slowly accept the inevitable, however.
"I don't fear [the rule affecting the outcomes of games], that's going to happen," Vikings All-Pro safety Harrison Smith. "Without a doubt, that's going to happen. You get a big sack, that changes field position, that changes maybe get a guy out of field goal range, get them in third-and-long or something like that or get off the field on third down and then it's a whole new set of downs. That's going to change games."
Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham had a similar take.
“It’s going to hurt some people this year because some people are going to lose games because of it,” Graham said. “You know, big penalty in the game, you can’t give these quarterbacks no extra time.”
Cornerback Jalen Mills, meanwhile, has no answer when asked if he understands how to tackle in a game he's played nearly all his life.
“As of right now I have no idea," the Pro-Bowl alternate admitted. I mean, Rodney [McLeod] had a hit in the Patriots game on the sideline, Malcolm’s [Jenkins] hit in the middle of the field, even [Nigel Bradham’s]. I mean, I’m not even trying to be biased. As of right now, I don’t know.”
San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan is already admitting the rule needs to be "fixed."
“Everyone feels the same. We’re all just hoping we eventually fix this and figure out what we can do about it,” Shanahan said. “It’s something we’re all struggling with right now.”
Schwartz understands the machinations of the league better than most because he spent a year in the league office advising the officiating department about a coach's perspective on what is going on.
"There is a difference between officiating and then also competition committee," Schwartz explained. "The officials don't make the rules. The rules come from the competition committee and the NFL, and then the officials have to officiate those rules."
Understanding the "trigger" to a penalty was the most valuable aspect of Schwartz's time on Park Avenue.
"I think the thing that was most valuable was seeing things through an official's eyes and what triggered a flag to get thrown and just hearing those guys," he said. "Because there are a lot of times you would argue, 'Well, that shouldn't have been called, that shouldn't have been called.' But I think the better understanding is why it got called and what was the trigger that caused the official to throw the flag."
This rule has already been made, however, and Schwartz is still trying to educate his players on why the flags are being triggered. And struggling to do so.
"We're trying to be educated on what's going to get called and what's not," Schwartz said. "The instructions we've given guys is try not to lower your head and try to take your head out of it and I think our guys are trying to do that. The other thing we say is you want to lower your target, but along with lowering your target and trying to stay away from the head, sometimes that causes you to dip your head. They're trying to play within the rules. ... The problem is they're dealing with world-class athletes who are moving targets. A little bit easier said than done."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen