The latest helmet-rule penalty in the 2018 NFL preseason to garner overwhelming criticism came Thursday night in the second half of the Patriots’ 37-20 win over the Eagles. New England’s Jordan Richards was flagged for a questionable hit on Philadelphia’s Dallas Goedert.
Yes, Richards did lower his head to the point of what could be considered dangerous posture. The helmet may or may not have made contact with the ball-carrier before the shoulder, which therefore could be defined as “initiating contact” after lowering the head. But compared to other violations of the new rule seen this preseason, Richards’ hit was benign.
We know NFL officials are intentionally flag-happy during preseason games in their attempt to establish consistency in their interpretation of the rules in time for the regular season. They’re informed to “let it fly” in the preseason if they see a potential penalty, even if they’re not sure. There’s a chance NFL senior VP of officiating Al Riveron will tell those officials that, no, Richards’ hit would not be a foul in the regular season.
But even in the installment period that is the preseason, NFL fans and media are rightfully questioning the interpretation that, according to Riveron and a handful of referees at the officiating clinic in Dallas last month, should be manageable.
The NFL’s attempt to further explain its new use of helmet rule earlier this week was a swing and a miss. Riveron’s Twitter account posted a video that included six plays — three proper-form hits and three violations of the rule — but the video was presented without verbal or visual explanation. A second, “updated” video with proper graphical explanation was tweeted later in the day.
The same way the NFL released videos of Riveron explaining catch-rule calls during the 2017 season, real-time explanations for helmet-rule violations during the 2018 preseason would be helpful.
The penalty on Richards, unlike the obvious violations the league has used in its videos, is a good example of a supposed violation of the helmet rule that requires prompt explanation. And it’s OK if that explanation is something along the lines of, “Actually, this would not be called in a real game.” If the call is determined to be good, coaches, players, fans and media alike deserve to know exactly how strictly the rule will be interpreted when the results of the games matter.
Again, we know NFL officials are working out the kinks. We can handle admission of bad calls in the preseason.
In the regular season? Not so much.