BOSTON (CBS) – The rules of the NFL can be hard to follow. The penalty for lowering the helmet? Often twice as.
The rule – which punishes players on either attack or defense for contacting an opponent – was introduced in 2018, and its enforcement has been tarnished at best. Although the league has done a good job of protecting the heads of quarterbacks and defenseless receivers, it has proved a challenge to take helmet-to-helmet collisions out of the tackle.
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The Patriots were on the wrong side of this rule Sunday when Myles Bryant lowered his helmet while tackling Tavon Austin. Granted, Austin also lowered his head before contact, but once the penalty has been enforced, it has generally been called on defensive players.
The CBS broadcast showed that Belichick was demonstrably talking to an official after the call. It was not clear if Belichick’s confusion came from the discovery of the ball or the call itself.
This penalty in this game was completely indifferent. Despite the 15-yard boost, the Jaguars lost one yard before Trevor Lawrence threw incompletely on the third down, leading to a punt.
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But in another match, in another situation, such a punishment could have a massive impact on the outcome.
With that in mind, Belichick was asked Monday morning what coaches can do to try to navigate around this rule to prevent penalty kicks from flying. He had some ideas but was not sure he had the right answer.
“The rule is a bit based on the defender’s attitude, provided there is no helmet contact. You know, when you hit the opponent in the head, it’s a completely different conversation,” Belichick explained. “But only in terms of tackling, is that the player’s attitude. So I’ll have to take a closer look at the play. It will probably be one to make sure we understand. We’ll have to do a better job of training it. “I’m not really sure what the answer is right now – I probably need a little more information.”
Here is the exact letter of the law:
“It’s a mistake if a player lowers his head to start and make contact with his helmet against an opponent. Contact does not have to be to an opponent’s head or neck area – to lower his head and start contact with an opponent’s torso, hips and lower body is also a mistake. Violations of the rule will be easier to see and judge when they occur in open space – as opposed to close line play – but this rule applies anywhere on the court at any time. “
While Belichick indicated that he is not necessarily 100 percent sure of all aspects of how the rule was applied in this scenario, his response from a coaching point of view is to emphasize to tacklers so as not to bend their upper body forward as they go in to tackle.
“We do not want to lead with the head and we do not want to be in the position where the legs are straight and the upper body is kind of in the L-type position,” Belichick said. “I think that’s really what officials are looking for.”
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The league made the penalty kick a center of gravity heading into the season. However, anecdotally, it does not appear to have been called more or less frequently than in the previous couple of seasons. Now with the season entering the final week before the playoffs, any and all instances of the penalty will surely be amplified and dissected by both players, coaches, fans and experts. And if Belichick is not 100 percent on all aspects of the rule in every application, suffice it to say that the rest of us will pretty much be guessed.