New England Patriots

If you’re worried that the NFL’s new targeting rule would be a mess – or, at least, that it would negatively impact the game in a major way – then new comments from competition committee chairman Rich McKay won’t make you feel any better.

Speaking to SiriusXM NFL Radio, McKay described the league’s new rule as a “substantial change” that’s designed to eliminate almost all helmet contact from the game. He also told Pro Football Talk that a report of only 10 plays from the 2017 season being illegal under the rule change was inaccurate.

Under the new rule, players will be flagged for personal fouls and subject to possible ejections if they lower their helmets to initiate contact. It applies to all players on the field, not just defense. So running backs and offensive linemen, in particular, will likely have to significantly adjust the way they play when it comes to making contact with opponents.

McKay says that the league conducted its own research to determine that lowered helmets were leading to a recent increase in concussions and other injuries.

“We spent a lot of time looking at the last three years of injury data,” said McKay. “We specifically saw that there’s a lot more helmet-to-helmet concussions. And then we saw, on the tape, a very consistent pattern. What’s creating this is a dangerous action by a player – which is, lowering their head, creating a different spine angle, and delivering a blow. The blow is equally as dangerous to the person delivering it as the person that it gets delivered to.”

Adrian Clayborn sacks Philip Rivers of the San Diego Chargers in a game for the Atlanta Falcons at Georgia Dome on October 23, 2016. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Adrian Clayborn sacks Philip Rivers of the San Diego Chargers in a game for the Atlanta Falcons at Georgia Dome on October 23, 2016. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

McKay also alluded to research going back to the very creation of helmets, which prompted concerns as far back as the 1940s about their unintended consequences. As far as McKay is concerned, it’s led to players becoming too cozy with lowering their heads to make contact.

“I think the helmet, by design, was a protective device,” McKay said. “With people getting much more comfortable in their necks and their ability to deliver a blow, we’ve allowed the helmet to [become] more a part of our game. This [rule change] is a pretty substantial step backwards in saying, ‘Take it out of the game’.

“It’s one of the most dangerous techniques there is, but yet we’ve allowed it to creep in and it’s now very prevalent. But we need to get it out. And we’re not going to get it out by saying, ‘We need to teach it better,’ we’re going to get it out by penalizing it.”

McKay said this week at the NFL’s annual league meeting that a serious spinal injury to Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier last season did not spur the league to make major changes. But McKay’s comments here – which refer to players’ necks and spines, as well as the dangers for players delivering hits in addition to taking them – suggest otherwise.

So if you felt that the rule change was simply installed to eliminate egregious helmet-to-helmet hits that result in serious injuries, fines, and suspensions, you may be sorely mistaken. An abundance of flags can now be expected for players that lower their helmets to initiate contact, which is something that most players have done for a long time and will now have to remove from their techniques. Even if you’re delivering a clean shoulder hit or wrapping someone up, your helmet better not be lowered. Or else the flag is coming out.

The Patriots’ Adrian Clayborn described the now-illegal hits as just playing football. It sounds like the game won’t quite resemble football as we know it next fall.

— By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at matthew.dolloff@bbgi.com.