The NFL needs to take a stronger, and clearer, stand against helmet-to-helmet hits. These are what seems to cause the most severe concussion and neck injuries. Here are all of the NFL rules (paraphrased) relating to illegal use of the helmet. I believe in every case the following two statements apply:
Unnecessary Roughness (Rule 12, Section 2, Article 6)
It is a foul if any player uses his helmet or facemask to butt, spear, or ram an opponent violently or unnecessarily. Note: this is a general and highly discretionary,rule that is applicable to all players and all situations.
Initiating Contact with the Crown of the Helmet (Rule 12, Section 2, Article 8)
It is a foul if a runner or tackler delivers a blow with the top/crown of his helmet against an opponent, but only when both players are clearly outside the tackle box and at least three yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Note: this would seem to already be covered by the above rule, which might be why most of us have never heard of the “tackle box” and “three-yard” exceptions.
Players in a Defenseless Posture (Rule 12, Section 2, Article 9)
It is a foul if a player initiates unnecessary contact against a player who is in a defenseless posture. Such unnecessary conduct includes:
Comment: The rule is also mostly covered by the general rule against violent and unnecessary use of the helmet or facemask. It is applied primarily to receivers or intended receivers, though it also applies to kickers and punters, kick or punt returners, and players on the ground. No. 2 would appear to cover the play in which Jordy Nelson’s ribs were broken against the New York Giants.
Roughing the Passer (Rule 12, Section 2, Article 9)
There are several specific principles and examples which apply, but there is also a general rule that any physical acts against a player who is in a passing posture (i.e. before, during, or after a pass) which, in the referee’s judgment, are unwarranted by the circumstances of the play is a foul.
It is helmet-to-helmet hits that the NFL most needs to be minimized. The current rules are too complicated, not easily understood by players, and not uniformly or often enough applied by referees. Primarily, the rules should be designed to prevent helmet-to-helmet hits and secondarily to protect defenseless players. Most of the gruesome injuries that we see are those in which receivers are aggressively struck by pass defenders.
How about this:
Current rules have wording similar to that of No. 4 and 5. The main problem I see is for running backs, like Eddie Lacy, who tend to lower their heads and careen into tacklers, and for tacklers who fill gaps, especially in goal-line and third-down situations, by diving head-first into gaps to stop runners.
These situations, however, seldom involve the impacts or violence that we see happen in the open field and primarily in the defensive secondary.
It could be that, to No. 1, an exemption should be added for helmet contact between the tackles and within five yards of the line of scrimmage.
In a previous posting, I’ve argued that suspensions, rather than fines, would be much more effective in reducing such dangerous play. [LINK: Random Observations for Your Mini-Bye-Week Amusement, 10/26]
I especially like your number 4.