John Steigerwald Column

New rule is not a crowning achievement for NFL

New rule is not a crowning achievement for NFL

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The scene: Heinz Field, sometime in the fall of 2013.


The Steelers and the much-improved Cleveland Browns are in the middle of an old-fashioned Turnpike Rivalry game. The Steelers lead 17-16 late in the fourth quarter. The Browns have the ball at the Steelers’ 39-yard line. It’s fourth-and-three. Too far away for a field-goal attempt.


The Browns are going for it. They throw a dump-off pass to stud running back Trent Richardson. He heads upfield. Steelers linebacker Larry Foote comes up to meet him and there is a collision. Richardson has the four yards. The Browns appear to have the first down.


But a flag has been thrown.


The linesman has decided that Richardson violated the new NFL rule that penalizes a player for purposely and forcefully using the crown of his helmet. Instead of a first down, the Browns have fourth-and-12 from their own 49.


The discussion in the television booth goes something like this:


Jim Nantz: “Let’s look at the replay. Remember that Richardson is allowed to use the crown of his helmet within the tackle box and three yards from the line of scrimmage.”


Phil Simms: “Jim, if you look at it from this angle, Richardson’s head is up until the second he has gone three yards beyond the line of scrimmage. I think that’s a bad call and it could end up costing the Browns the game.”


Nantz: “Unfortunately for the Browns, they can’t challenge the call because penalties are not reviewable.”


The Browns lose the game and ultimately miss the playoffs by one game.


NFL owners weren’t fooling around when they discussed the new crown rule. They passed it 31-1 a few days ago. Present and former players, especially running backs, seem to hate it.


Some coaches like it and don’t think it will be hard to teach the players how to adjust.


This column’s favorite website, Coldhardfootballfacts.com, did what it always does. It cut through the hysteria and the hyperbole and actually looked at the facts. It looked at every one of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson’s runs in 2011 and 2012.


Football fans everywhere can be thankful that there are people walking the Earth who have the time and the inclination to do stuff like this.


Scott Kacsmar of CHFF determined that, “At its absolute worst, the crown rule would have impacted 1.98 percent of Peterson’s runs the last two seasons.”


Kacsmar seems to come to the conclusion that the rule won’t come into play often enough to ruin the game as so many seem to believe.


I think he misses the point. It’s not about the how many. It’s about the when.


The unbelievably stupid and embarrassing tuck rule was eliminated on the same day that the crown rule was implemented. The uproar over the enforcement of the tuck rule rule in a 2001 AFC playoff game between the New England Patriots and the Oakland Raiders was directly attributable to the fact that most NFL fans had never heard of it, much less seen it enforced.


But because an official decided to enforce it on a snowy night in Foxboro, Mass., the New England Patriots have an extra Lombari trophy.


There’s just way too much subjectivity involved in the crown rule, and there’s already too much subjectivity at NFL games in the 21st century.


And way too many penalty flags.


The motivation for the crown rule is understandable and maybe even admirable. The belief that it can be equitably enforced is naïve.


Can, meet worms.


• Sorry, but I just wasn’t that surprised to see Pitt lose to Wichita State Thursday. I also wouldn’t have been surprised if Pitt had won and gone on to beat Gonzaga. It was that kind of year and that kind of team.


• The Pirates sent Gerrit Cole back to Class AAA, even though he pitched well enough this spring to make the starting rotation.


Pirates management insists that it has nothing to do with delaying Cole’s free agency and keeping control of his contract for an extra year.


I don’t think anybody buys that for a minute, and I’d be willing to bet that there are 20 or 25 guys on the Pirates’ roster who know that Cole is at least one of the five best major league pitchers on the roster.


Other teams delay the arrival of prospects in order to gain an extra year of control, but I’m guessing that you know that other teams don’t have 20 consecutive losing seasons.


If Pirates management believes Cole is one of their best pitchers and gives them a better chance to win, and if they really believe that the Pirates are a real major league team, they need to let him pitch in Pittsburgh.


This is the message that should have been sent by general manager Neil Huntington to a team that has choked the last two seasons and produced two of the worst collapses in professional sports history:


“I don’t care about 2019, and I don’t care about 2029. If I believe having Gerrit Cole on our staff gives us a better chance to win today or next Tuesday, he’s going to be in our starting rotation. One or two wins could be the difference in making the postseason. This organization lost the luxury of talking about the distant future a long, long time ago. Everything we do will be about winning now.”


It’s also the message that should be sent to the fans who are still supporting this poor excuse for a Major League Baseball franchise.



John Steigerwald writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.


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