Yesterday we broke down the targeting rules that are in place this year, and if you read my take on the rules you have probably already inferred I'm not a fan of the rules. Today I'm going to tell you why.
But before I tell you why I should point out one of the most common defenses of the rules. It is the stated position of some 'reasonable' commentators that whatever the shortcomings of the rules the rule makers are looking out for player safety, so you can't criticize that, and by extension you can't criticize these rules. You can be against the targeting rules without being anti-safety, and you can be pro-safety and anti these rules.
First, the rule wasn't enforced uniformly last season, and rather than addressing those issues the rule makers magnified the rule. After a season with puzzling no calls and puzzling disqualifications, the rules committee decided to up the penalty. The automatic ejection is worthless. 15 yards and an automatic first down is about as steep as a penalty gets, but the committee had to show they are really serious about this and add an ejection. Now when a referee blows the call, it won't affect one drive, it will affect an entire game, and perhaps two.
Second, it places the officials in a terrible position. They are often asked to make split second judgment calls, and generally the rule of thumb is simple: call what you see; don't call what you don't see. These rules change that. When in doubt, it is a foul. So if a back judge sees a vicious hit out of the corner of his eye, he won't know if all of the elements have been met for a foul. He will see a possibility of a foul, but he will have doubt. "Where exactly did the helmet first initiate contact was it with the chest or facemask? I don't know. We'll throw that defender out of the game." You had doubt, but it could have been the right call. The rule makes every big hit a penalty unless all the officials are sure it wasn't. They have essentially created a presumption of a foul.
But what about instant replay? Won't that fix this? Not even a little bit. The instant replay provision is weak and only designed to give the impression that meaningful review exists. There are only two things that are reviewable. The booth can review whether it was the crown of the helmet that initiated contact and where contact was initiated. In fairness, those are the key elements, but those aren't all the elements. And if the booth decides that the call was wrong, what then? No penalty, right? Nope. The penalty stands, but the player's ejection is reversed. How eager do you think the officials in the booth are to have this result? Do they really want to acknowledge a mistake on the field but leave the penalty in place?
These rules are the culmination of years of trying to fix something that wasn't broken. The spearing rule has existed for a long time before it was modified and replaced by these abominations. If that rule had been a point of emphasis one year, it would have largely taken care of the problem.
The players are going to be held to a very high standard. A hit aiming for the shoulder may get you ejected. It may even get you ejected if it was in fact clean. When in doubt, it is a foul.