The game of football has seen its fair share of revisions and evolutions during its long and proud history, but the evolution that it could potentially face in the near future is something that could drastically effect the way all of us view and enjoy the game we love forever.
On Monday night, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals squared off in another grueling AFC North prize fight. There were three tremendous impacts that happened on the field that could expand into far greater impact off of it.
The first impact, at the moment, is surrounded with the most uncertainty. Steelers veteran linebacker Ryan Shazier collided with Bengals rookie wide receiver Josh Malone attempting to tackle him after a reception. While the hit made by Shazier was a clean one, the technique was not.
Shazier ended up impacting crown first into Malone’s body and then spring-boarding off as if he were a race car bouncing off a safer barrier. While this piece has zero intention of critiquing how Shazier should properly tackle, it does magnify the dangers of the game; and that one play could dramatically affect not only the team but more importantly a player’s health.
Shazier has since received extensive medical attention, and while the his condition is still uncertain the time of this article, Steelers GM Kevin Colbert released a statement “Ryan’s injury will not require surgery, and he continues to improve”.
Hit on Mixon, gets sandwiched by Dupree and Williams. Not a good look, especially after Shazier’s injury. Praying for the best. pic.twitter.com/dgaq9AfJKb
— Cagen Cantrell (@CeeingTheDraft) December 5, 2017
The next impact made during the game while undoubtedly the least “significant” of the three, is the most relevant to the current dilemma in the league. Joe Mixon, coming off his career best performance of 173 total yards against the Browns was again looking towards another stellar performance.
Midway through the 2nd quarter, Mixon was sandwiched by Bud Dupree and Vince Williams. Mixon then laid motionless himself on the turf for several moments before being escorted to the sidelines. Right after, Mixon was then sent to the locker room for more extensive concussion protocol, where he was then ruled out of the game with a mild concussion.
On the contrary to Shazier’s hit, Mixon made sure to keep his head up and then brace himself for heavy contact. This again shows that a freak accident can happen at any moment regardless of your preparation for contact or technique. Mixon was one of the more rare cases of the concussion protocol.
Aaron Gordon of Vice Sports conducted his own research based study, suggesting that through week 14 of the 2027 season, approximately 141 cases of concussions will appear on the NFL’s injury report, with an outstanding number of 8 players being placed on injured reserved due to their concussion diagnosis. So while the appropriate action was taken with Joe Mixon, it is seen that the league has generally not lived up to the notion that concussions are a serious focus in engaging player health and safety, despite a supposed rapid decline in concussion diagnoses through the revised concussion protocol.
Lastly, and by far the most talked subject of last night’s game was the hit right here:
Two simultaneous big hits by Bell and Smith-Schuster. JuJu’s actions after the play however were uncalled for. Uncharacteristic for a guy like him. Could be costly for Pittsburgh. pic.twitter.com/8yozS898To
— Cagen Cantrell (@CeeingTheDraft) December 5, 2017
Steelers rookie wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster delivered a devastating block on Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who had earlier in the game suffered an appeared minor upper body injury. While the vicious hit could be argued both “dirty or clean”, “cheap or fair” and “accidental or deliberate” , the consensus for the block is that it should be further reviewed.
What do those three hits mean for the league, it’s stance of player health & safety, and ultimately its future? Well, it shows that despite all of these hits, in no shape or form being linked to intentional injury, the NFL can no longer maintain the revised contact rule of 2013 which states: “A ban on a ball carrier initiating contact with the crown of his helmet in the open field or by a defender while making a tackle.”
The NFL as a collective, whether it be the owners, members of the NFLPA, or even Roger Goddell himself have an opportunistic dilemma ahead of them. I believe there is zero uncertainty that the NFL will be researching into college football’s targeting rules this offseason, and then assess whether or not it can be effectively applied into the professional realm of the game.
The opportunity is there to determine a proper medium between decision makers (owners, GMs, coaches) and of course the players to seek a consensus view of proper player safety. Knowing and researching those who oppose or are disgruntled by the targeting rule is also an opportunity, because to a small degree, the fans opinions on the matter of player safety are significant as well.
The players go out and perform on a weekly basis for and in front of the fans, so if the outsiders voices are against the something that appears to negatively impact a player’s safety, then it should be further evaluated out with no hesitation. Lastly, this is an opportunity for the players to show that they are fully invested in striving for improved safety conditions, and that the League should back them up.
Former ESPN reporter Ed Werder said it best:
The league can only do so much to emphasize player safety and reduce head injuries. The players need to give a damn too.
— Ed Werder (@EdwerderRFA) December 5, 2017
While I do not see the NFL being “gone” or even on “it’s death bed” in the foreseeable future by any means. Action should must be taken before it reaches that landmark. There cannot be a denial that the game of football is risky and that physicality is unavoidable. But if the NFL and its players do not commit to the urgency to ensure safety moving forward, then this will not be the final occurrence of us discussing a devastating hit on or by a player. The NFL has a grand opportunity in front of them to be better, but yet still give us reason to watch this great game.