NFL pre­pared to take aim at preda­tory hits

League ex­pected to look at im­ple­ment­ing col­lege-style rule to de­ter ‘tar­get­ing’ players

Ottawa Citizen - - SPORTS - JOHN KRYK JoKryk@post­ Twit­ter; @JohnKryk

If you think NFL games al­ready are over-of­fi­ci­ated, maybe wait un­til next year.

The NFL’s competition com­mit­tee will con­sider adopt­ing a col­lege-style “tar­get­ing” rule this off-sea­son. So said Troy Vin­cent, the league’s ex­ec­u­tive vice-pres­i­dent of foot­ball op­er­a­tions, on a con­fer­ence call with re­porters Wed­nes­day.

“I think it’s some­thing we have to con­sider,” Vin­cent said.

If you’re un­aware, U.S. col­lege foot­ball for the last 10 sea­sons has had a rather de­tailed tar­get­ing rule that, to sum­ma­rize, can re­sult in an ejec­tion ei­ther for tar­get­ing a de­fence­less op­po­nent above the shoul­ders or for us­ing the crown of the hel­met to con­tact an op­po­nent.

In 2013, the rule was amended to have the on-field ref­eree stop the game to con­sult with the des­ig­nated on-site re­play of­fi­cial to con­firm whether tar­get­ing — ir­re­spec­tive of the per­sonal-foul penalty, which can­not be over­turned — oc­curred.

Since 2016, re­play of­fi­cials have been able to ini­ti­ate the tar­get­ing call from the booth.

De­ter­min­ing whether tar­get­ing oc­curred, how­ever, usu­ally takes many min­utes — in other words, a game delay that feels like for­ever.

Any player de­ter­mined on re­view to be guilty of tar­get­ing is ejected; if it oc­curs in the sec­ond half, the guilty player also misses the first half of his next game.

The main rea­son it takes for­ever to de­ter­mine if tar­get­ing oc­curred is there are so many boxes to tick within the rule. The sec­ond of the two pri­mary cri­te­ria — “forcible con­tact to the head or neck area of a de­fence­less op­po­nent” — in­cludes, but isn’t limited to, the fol­low­ing def­i­ni­tions of a “de­fence­less op­po­nent”:

a player in the act of or hav­ing just thrown a pass;

a player try­ing to catch a pass or kick who hasn’t had time to be­come a ball-car­rier;

a player in the act of kick­ing or who has just kicked;

a player on the ground or out of the play;

a player who gets blind-side blocked;

a ball-car­rier whose for­ward progress has stopped;

a ball-car­rier who is slid­ing or has given him­self up;

a quar­ter­back af­ter he has thrown an in­ter­cep­tion or af­ter a team­mate has fum­bled.

That isn’t all. A fur­ther req­ui­site for a U.S. col­lege player to be guilty of tar­get­ing is the pres­ence of at least one of the fol­low­ing “in­di­ca­tors”:

launch­ing (leav­ing one’s feet to at­tack an op­po­nent through an “up­ward or for­ward” thrust into a player’s head or neck area);

crouch­ing and thrust­ing up­ward, even with both feet still on the ground;

lead­ing with the “hel­met, shoul­der, fore­arm, fist, hand or el­bow to at­tack with forcible con­tact” to the head or neck area;

or low­er­ing one’s head be­fore at­tack­ing by “ini­ti­at­ing forcible con­tact with the crown of the hel­met.”

As com­plex as the rule is, the big­gest prob­lem is how it’s de­ter­mined. The NCAA — and the NFL, if it chooses to im­ple­ment such a rule — needs to in­sist that ref­er­ees and re­play of­fi­cials view only real-time re­plays — that is, never in slow mo­tion.

Slo-mo too of­ten makes it ap­pear as though a tack­ler in­tended to com­mit tar­get­ing. That’s be­cause a split-sec­ond of ac­tion can be slowed down and stretched into sev­eral sec­onds and over those many sec­onds we con­clude in­tu­itively it was the tack­ler’s in­tended path — for in­stance, to hit the op­pos­ing player in the head or neck.

When we see the same play at reg­u­lar speed, how­ever, we of­ten see it en­tirely dif­fer­ent — a re­play speed, by the way, that’s sel­dom shown dur­ing col­lege tele­casts. That is, we can more nat­u­rally see that the ball-car­rier changed course or moved his head at the last mo­ment — too late for the tack­ler to change his course and ac­tions.

Players play at reg­u­lar speed. De­fend­ers’ ac­tions should be judged at reg­u­lar speed, too.

This fac­tor is real and in­te­gral and is a big rea­son the CFL in­sists — se­nior vice-pres­i­dent of foot­ball and of­fi­ci­at­ing czar Glen John­son told me ear­lier this fall — that re­plays on pass in­ter­fer­ence chal­lenges first be shown in the re­play com­mand cen­tre at reg­u­lar speed. If a move­ment is cu­ri­ous or un­nat­u­ral, only then do they look at slo-mo to de­ter­mine what caused it.


De­ter­min­ing what con­sti­tutes a preda­tory hit in foot­ball can be dif­fi­cult.

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