There is still much to learn about the NFL’s rule change on a player lowering his helmet to initiate contact.
Specifically, how the rule will be enforced by officials during a game, Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said.
In short, the change makes it a foul if a player lowers his helmet to “initiate and make contact” against an opponent. It can be flagged for a 15-yard penalty and lead to an ejection.
“I would say I have a decent understanding. I’ve been in a lot of conversations [with the league],” Garrett said. “They do a very good job of trying to explain what it is and why they want to do things a certain way.”
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
But teams won’t have a full understanding of how the change is going to work during a game until they see how it’s executed by the officiating crew. Garrett said the theory behind the rule is nothing new, that players have always been taught to keep their helmets up, not down, to prevent injury.
“Ever since we were playing Pop Warner, we were told don’t put your head down, don’t spear a guy,” he said. “We’ve never lived in a world where that was what we wanted from our players. That’s how we all learned how to play football. So we’re trying to get back to that. And they do such a good job statistically looking at these different things to make the game safer. So it’s all well intended. I know there’s some anxiety that everybody has, but once it gets going it will all clarify itself.”
The league has tried to provide teams with footage of hits that will be flagged in 2018, but Garrett said it will still take some games to get a feel for how it will be used.
“We’re going to find out how they’re going to call it,” Garrett said. “There have been new rules that have gone in in the past and there was an anxiety everybody had … and then we start playing games and they call it a certain way and everybody gets a better feel as we go.”
Garrett said he’s never wanted his players lowering their helmets.
“You never really want them with their head down and their face mask looking straight to the ground. I don’t care what position you play, whether you’re running or tackling or blocking,” he said, while acknowledging that it still occasionally happens during the speed of the game.
“This game happens fast. And sometimes those guys get in a position where they might feel like they’re hitting with their face mask, but maybe the guy moves, maybe you move, things happen at the last second where you’re going to lead with your head and have that kind of contact.
“But nobody in this league is teaching to put your head down and hit with the top of your helmet,” he added. ”Nobody has ever taught that.”