Give Roger Goodell a break

Allison Joyce

Despite what some people think, not everything that happens in the NFL is Roger Goodell's doing.

It's certainly no secret that a lot of fans of the NFL aren't huge fans of Roger Goodell. He's the guy who punishes their favorite players, he's the guy that the owners got to hide behind during the lockout so they could pretend it wasn't them who were shutting down your favorite game...

Goodell is the guy always talking about doing things to improve player safety that players always whine about. Meanwhile, hundreds of their colleagues are involved in a class action suit against the league because they feel they didn't do enough for safety. But we let the players act like tough guys now and lament the toll that the mindset brings on them later.

Goodell however, he's the devil. He's trying to make the game into flag football.

And to be clear, I'm not saying you should like Roger Goodell, but at some point we do have to admit that not everything that happens in the NFL is his fault. Case in point, the recent NFL rule changes. Predictably, when the rule banning offensive players from striking with the crown of their helmet was announced, internet commenters all unloaded on Goodell.

But of course, it's not Goodell's rule. Goodell doesn't actually make rule changes. That falls on the NFL's competition committee, which is made up of owners, coaches & front office executives from a number of different NFL teams. Here they are actually.

Co-Chair: Rich McKay (Atlanta Falcons)
Co-Chair: Jeff Fisher (St. Louis Rams)
- Mark Murphy (Green Bay Packers)
- Ken Whisenhunt (Arizona Cardinals)
- Stephen Jones (Dallas Cowboys)
- Marvin Lewis (Cincinnati Bengals)
- John Mara (New York Giants)
- Ozzie Newsome (Baltimore Ravens)
- Rick Smith (Houston Texans)

So if you're complaining about recent rule changes... those are the guys that you should be directing your anger at. And therein lies the problem. When you look at this list, it becomes a lot harder to accuse them of not understanding the game or not having player interests in mind. That list has former players, it has coaches, it has guys that interact with players every day. Every guy on that list knows the game 100X more than any of us. Roger Goodell probably does too, but at least we can convince ourselves that he's just a suit... But we can't convince ourselves of that when we're talking about Jeff FIsher, Ozzie Newsome, Marv Lewis etc.

While we're talking about that rule change, here's Jeff Fisher explaining exactly what it was.

"Playing Rule Proposal No. 6 restricts a ball carrier and a tackler's ability to initiate contact with the crown of their helmet. This one has gotten a lot of attention and discussion and so far it's going well. We've talked at length about how we think it should be enforced but the important thing here is this is a block that is out in space [talking over a video at this point]. It's clearly - and we emphasize clearly - outside of the tackle box, which is tackle to tackle, and further than three yards down the field. So clearly, and they're going to enforce it as if it is, it's that play where two players are coming together like this and dropping their helmets where they make contact with the top crown of the helmet. Face good, hairline good, this good but when the crown comes down, we're going to have issues. We've looked at a lot of plays. Basically, the best way to phrase this is we're bringing the shoulder back in the game. We want to bring the shoulder back to the game. We all know the helmet is a protective device; it's not designed to be used like it's being used as of late and we want to protect our players, specifically out in space."

The key point he makes in there is when this rule will be applied. RBs can still lower the head and crash into the line if they like. They can still get low in a pile... But in the open field where they have a choice, they simply can't hit with the crown of their helmet. This is already the case for defensive players and has been for a long time. If the NFL made any mistake here, it was not making the same action illegal for offensive players right off the bat.


I'm sure we all remember this example of a back purposefully striking with the crown of his helmet when he could have easily led with his shoulder or forearm. Not only could Trent Richardson have given Coleman a concussion here, he could have just as easily given himself one or suffered a stinger or more serious neck injury.

Head of officiating Dean Blandino explained that after looking at all week 16 games last year, they found 36 plays where there was helmet to helmet contact in space. Of those 34 collisions, 5 would have drawn flags (assuming the call was the right). That's only one week, so it's hard to say that would be above, below or right at average. But if you project it over the course of a season for just your team, you may see it called 2 or 3 times.

And of course, that number presumably should be even less as players get coached on the new rule.

"We want to make a serious attempt to get the shoulder back into the game," Fisher said. "We think that is very important as a league. We are not saying the ball carrier cannot get small. We are not saying the ball carrier cannot protect the football, because if he is going to go down to cover the football, if the shoulder goes down, we know the head goes down, we understand that. We have some one arm dominant runners in this league where if they are running away from their dominant side, they don't switch hands with the ball, so if I am running as a right handed ball carrier and I am running to the left, the defender coming here, my only opportunity is to go down to protect the football. Protecting the football is OK, providing you do not strike with the crown of your helmet and that is what we are trying to differentiate. The other thing that is going to come up, the crew is going to do the best they can, but there may be instances where this is sent upstairs and it is not penalized on the field but it will be fined."

Personally, I think it's a pretty fair and reasonable rule. It protects the runner as much as the defender and as Fisher points out... This isn't changing the way the game has been historically played. In his opinion, it's putting it back closer to the way it was actually played.

But maybe more than anything... it's not Roger Goodell's rule!

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