“Those bang-bang plays, it’s tough,” Hyde said Tuesday. “Start fining the quarterbacks. They’re the ones who are throwing the ball right there. It’s tough for us [defensive players] to be able to adjust last second to get our head to one side, the other side — up, down. We’re trying to make a play like the receiver is. It’s the sport of football.”
Hyde’s suggestion came as part of a discussion about a change to the NFL rulebook enacted at the league meetings last month in which a player — on offense or defense — will be penalized 15 yards and potentially ejected any time he lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent.
While Hyde welcomed the potential for the rule to be enforced against offensive players, especially running backs who might use their helmet to initiate contact, he stressed such contact can be unavoidable as a defensive player in certain situations.
“When a guy catches a ball across the middle and it’s bang-bang, and he’s just catching the ball and doesn’t have his feet down yet, as a defensive player, I’m not going to wait for him to bring the ball in and secure it,” he said. “That’s not realistic. In my eyes, if I’m able to hit him in his feet all the way up to his shoulders, I’m going to try to. Obviously, the head, the head contact, you can get away from that.
“[But] I actually had an incident in the playoff game [against Jacksonville when] the trainers didn’t like to how I tackled on a few plays. My response to them was just the running back was running at me and he’s getting as low as he can and lowering his shoulder, lowering his helmet. I have to make a tackle. I’m not going to stand straight up, because he’s going to run straight through my chest. It’s a violent game, it’s a violent sport. They’re trying the best they can do to make it as safe as possible, but at the end of the day, those bang-bang plays, they’re hard to get out of the sport.”
The NFL’s previous rule limited penalties to when a runner or tackler initiated contact with the top or crown of his helmet when both players were outside of the tackle box. The new rule is broadened to include any player who “lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent,” regardless of where it occurs on the field. It also eliminates a requirement from the previous rule for the contact to be “flagrant” for the player to be ejected.
“It just seems that players at every level are getting more comfortable playing with their helmets as a weapon rather than a protective device,” NFL competition committee chairman Rich McKay said last month. “Therefore, we need a rule that is broad and puts that in context, and that’s what we think this does.”
Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, a member of the NFL Players Association executive committee, hopes the league will reconsider its rule at the upcoming May owners meetings.
“Hopefully they go back and realize it’s not going to be a functional rule that’s going to make sense,” he said Tuesday. “It’s going to be hard on the refs, because they already have enough rules to call. Now, do they call it every single play, which they can do?
“It’s definitely going to be hard [as players], because our heads are at the top of our body. You play with forward lean. Even if I’m coming in with a shoulder, if [the offense player] drops his head a little bit, it’s slight helmet-to-helmet. It can be called every single play. I just don’t think it was well thought-out. The intention of the rule is great, but we have to understand at some point, this is a collision, contact sport. And I think that’s some of the allure to it. Everybody is not built to play this game. You can’t legislate out every injury. Then we wouldn’t be playing football. At that point, it changes to something different. If the fans and the owners are OK with that, then we’ll have to live in that new world.”
Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams, who has played in the NFL since 2006, agreed with Alexander’s opinion of the rule change.
“I understand the old rule of targeting and launching, but this seems to incorporate all contact, including incidental contact, which I think is a huge problem for players,” he told ESPN. “There is a risk that comes with playing the game, generally speaking. You can legislate out the flagrant attempts to use the helmet as a weapon, but the reason we wear helmets is because of incidental contact and just the nature of the game.”