Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

NFL in danger of ruining its own game

  • Print

The tackling options these days are best described by the words of a rebel warlord in the 2006 movie Blood Diamond when he queried, "Short sleeve, or long sleeve?"

It is a little dramatic, to be sure, comparing the option of having your arm or wrist chopped off with the decision-making of tacklers in 2013, but the point is there are no good options anymore. Hit someone too high, or get hit high, and you are either fined or subject to concussions and possible brain trauma. Hit someone low or get hit low, and your season/career can be ended by a ligament tear, or you are vilified as a coward.

As you should know, the NFL has been cracking down on helmet-to-helmet collisions on the field of play. Unless you're on the line of scrimmage, all helmet-to-helmet contact now results in penalties and substantial fines. And like any action taken, we are now seeing the equal, and opposite reaction from the players. When in doubt, like you are most of the time during a high-speed collision, players are opting to go low. The NFL is on pace for a record high of season-ending knee injuries. When forced to choose between a potential six-figure fine and someone's ability to play football for the rest of the year, players are choosing the latter.

The solution seems easy enough: Fine players for both going too high or too low -- but it isn't that simple. It never is. Granted, there are hundreds of different tackling scenarios on the football field, and players can be brought down in multiple legal manners. Yet there will always be scenarios that are unavoidable on such a small playing surface, like what happened to New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski when he caught a pass in an intersecting alley, with a hard-charging cornerback.

An, "alley" is formed in football when there are walls of players on either side and your only path forward is straight ahead. "Alleys" can be created on the line of scrimmage or down the field, like we saw with Gronkowski on the last day of his season, and bad things happen when players collide in them.

When an offensive and defensive player meet in an alley, the options for tackling from an angle, or putting your head to the side of the ball carrier are absent. Instinct and self preservation in football tells a ball carrier to lower his head and shoulder pads when he anticipates a collision. Hitting a ball carrier above the knees yet below the helmet line then becomes very difficult when your opponent braces and bends forward for contact. The only way to tackle a player in an "alley," and avoid contacting his helmet when he has lowered his shoulders, is to hit him at the knees, or even lower.

Unlike other professional sports, football also has the problem of extreme size discrepancies between players. There is no other contact sport in the world where two players can be on the field at the same time, and one can outweigh another by more than 150 pounds. If you start fining players for hitting too low, on top of hitting too high, some defensive backs are going to find themselves in some very compromising, potentially dangerous situations. Players often hit very low when the only other option available is to get slammed by another player who outweighs them by 80 pounds.

The NFL once contemplated a "super schedule," where they planned to copy the CFL's 18 and 2, regular season, pre-season, format. It would seem one of the only solutions to decreasing the number of these too high, or too low, detrimental hits, would be to put more space between all of these players, reduce the "alleys," and increase the angles by adopting the longer and wider fields that the CFL employs.

If the NFL keeps adding restrictions to their product without changing a fundamental construct of the game, like field size, you may remember this as the period when the game was changed to such a degree it no longer resembles itself.


Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays in the Free Press.

Twitter: @DougBrown97

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 24, 2013 C8

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Lawless in the Morning: It's playoff game day

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A goose comes in for a landing Thursday morning through heavy fog on near Hyw 59 just north of Winnipeg - Day 17 Of Joe Bryksa’s 30 day goose challenge - May 24, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • Two baby tigers were unveiled at the Assiniboine Park Zoo this morning, October 3rd, 2011. (TREVOR HAGAN/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos


Do you agree with the sale of the Canadian Wheat Board to foreign companies?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google