The Rule That Defies Both Common Sense And Physics

By Matthew Marczi

For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you are probably aware of the fact that I took issue with a certain physics-defying aspect of one rule that negated a touchdown run. I speak of course about Le’Veon Bell’s final play.

Bell was looking to cap off a big day with an exclamation point, making a supreme effort and diving into the end zone amidst a series of defenders on what would have set up a potential game-tying two-point conversion.

While he made the required effort to get into the end zone, it came at a heavy price, as he took a head shot from Baltimore Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith.

While the legality of the hit itself is another topic of conversation, the fact that the hit popped off Bell’s helmet is the crux of the issue.

Because a new rule states that a play is blown dead immediately as soon as a player loses his helmet, Bell’s forward progress was marked off from the moment his helmet popped off his head.

Despite the fact that this act occurred in mid-air.

Now, the intent behind the rule is perfectly understood. The idea is to immediately cease all efforts to bring down the player made vulnerable by the loss of his helmet. Thus, in order to dissuade defenders of any remaining motivation to make a hit, the play is ruled dead immediately in that instant.

But does it really make sense to penalize the offensive player by eliminating his naturally-attained forward progress simply because a defender knocked his helmet off?

I won’t go so far as to say that this play will serve as an example for defenders to start ripping helmets off, but there’s a certain level of common sense missing in the application of this rule, among others.

If a player diving forward in mid-air is contacted and his helmet is jarred loose while in the process of a ‘football move’ that takes him off the ground, it seems to make logical sense to allow that player’s forward progress.

After all, it is no willful act on the part of the ball carrier that his body continues to move forward, as though he could stop himself mid-air as soon as he realizes that his helmet is missing.

The bottom line is, as we all know, that Bell scored on that play in a very intuitively obvious manner. The play serves as a textbook example of a well-intentioned rule displaying its limitations when applied to real-time situations. Not only did it penalize the player who lost his helmet, it also did not protect him from injury. When that happens, it’s time to revisit the rule.



  • CrazyTerry

    Exactly what I have been saying too . And others on this blog. It’s too bad the NFL doesn’t have a clue. Actually I have seen this rule applied in the past and it was usually when the play is whistled dad. I don’t care how the rule is worded becasue I have never seen it applied like this. I have always seen the ball spotted where the “action” ended before the foot took another step. At least, that’s the way I remembered it. I don’t ever recall a ref looking at the exact inch where the helmet fell off and respotting the ball.

  • Elijah Stevenson

    It surprised me a little because overall it’s a dumb call, but Baltimore is a team that plays dirty all the time and they had home field advantage. But they never call a penalty when T. Suggs intentionally his Ben below his knees, no one ever talks about that.

  • Stout

    What if it wasn’t a reviewable play? I see the only reason it was spotted short was because he did score.

  • I have this issue as well. It makes complete sense to blow the whistle when a helmet comes off. It makes NO sense to go back and review exactly when the helmet popped off, particularly in a scenario like this.

  • Jefferson_St_Joe

    I don’t have a problem with the rule. He very easily could have dropped the ball before he crossed the goal line and then everyone here would be singing a different song. You have to draw the line somewhere, and in the interest of safety, when the helmet comes off is the best place. There are always plays that will fall just on either of the line no matter where it is drawn, it just so happens that one went against the Steelers.

  • Steel.pirate

    This articule is working under a misconception. In the majority of cases of helmet removal, the fault lies with the player whoose helmet came off. The rule is designed to encourage offensive/defensive players to ensure their helmets are properly strapped on before starting a play. The rule is not designed to discourage hits to the helmet area, there are seperate rules for that.
    Now, in this particular case, if Bell had been hit legally, his helmet would not have popped off at all. It appears to me that he had his helmet properly attached. The “correct” call as far as I understand the rule book is, no score, automatic first down on the 1 inch line.

  • 20Stoney

    I don’t think you can eliminate the “legality of the hit.” The fact of the matter is the Ravens benefited from an illegal hit. That’s what caused the helmet to come off.

  • Whcr Communicators

    I agree this was not the way the rule was intended to be used.It was intended cause Jason Whitten was running around crazy after his helmet was knocked off

  • MC

    Completely agree, if a ball carrier is in the process of being downed and especially mid air whilst doing it, at least mark the ball where he lands. That call was ridiculous when you think about the fact that the time at which his helmet came off and the moment he broke the plain of the end zone or even landed on the ground was MICRO SECONDS apart. To go to a slow motion replay to determine a spot in that situation is insanity.