PHOENIX — Despite complaints that they are fundamentally changing the game, NFL owners voted almost unanimously Wednesday to ban players from ducking their heads to initiate contact in the open field.
The rules change, which capped the league’s annual meeting, passed by a 31-1 margin, with the only vote against it coming from the Cincinnati Bengals.
The rule imposes a 15-yard penalty if a runner or tackler initiates forcible contact by delivering a blow with the crown (top) of his helmet when both players are clearly outside the tackle box.
The tackle box is defined as an area extending from offensive tackle to tackle and from three yards beyond the line of scrimmage back to the end zone behind the line of scrimmage. Incidental contact by the helmet of a runner or tackler is not a foul.
Many fans complain the game is inching closer to flag football, and some former running backs warned the crown-of-the-helmet rule change will put ballcarriers at greater risk because they will be less able to defend themselves.
Several coaches at the meeting wondered about the difficulty of officials making the nuanced call of helmet position on tackles — the play is not reviewable on instant replay — and believe that a 15-yard penalty could be unnecessarily punitive.
The penalty yardage will be assessed from the spot of the foul, so a long run would not necessarily be wiped out completely.
The NFL also did away with the so-called tuck rule, so now it is a fumble if a player who starts his throwing motion loses possession during an attempt to bring the ball back to his body.
Distributed by MCT Information Services