Seattle Seahawks: Will New Helmet Rule Hurt Marshawn Lynch?

Todd PheiferAnalyst IIIMarch 21, 2013

SEATTLE, WA - NOVEMBER 04:  Running back Marshawn Lynch #24 of the Seattle Seahawks is tackled by middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley #54 of the Minnesota Vikings at CenturyLink Field on November 4, 2012 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks may be faced with an interesting challenge this year. Specifically, do they have to teach Marshawn Lynch how to run differently?

Now that the NFL has passed the new “helmet rule” running backs may have to alter how they run, particularly in the open field. This may impact (no pun intended) a player like Marshawn Lynch, who often relies on a bruising style to gain extra yardage.

The exact verbiage goes like this:

“It is a foul if a runner or tackler initiates forcible contact by delivering a blow with the top/crown of his helmet against an opponent when both players are clearly outside the tackle box (an area extending from tackle to tackle and from three yards beyond the line of scrimmage to the offensive team’s end line). Incidental contact by the helmet of a runner or tackler against an opponent shall not be a foul.”

One has to imagine that the subtleties of interpretation could be a challenge. If a running back is charging down the field at full speed, lowers his head and spears a safety right in the chin strap, that might be easy to flag.

However, what happens if a running back leads with his shoulder, only to have the defensive player change his angle at the last minute? This is similar to the complaint that has been registered by defensive players who are now being flagged if they hit a receiver in the head.

Will the NFL have to clarify the exact spot where the “top/crown” begin? Will lines start being drawn on the helmet so that replay officials can check in the same way they evaluate feet on the sideline?

When you watch these types of plays, particularly in slow motion, you can’t help but notice that the head kind of gets in the way. A running back can lower their shoulder and attempt to lead with their pads, but that inconvenient head is still there. Humans do not have the ability given to turtles. Lowering the shoulder and lowering the head tend to go together.

In a recent interview, Mike & Mike of ESPN were talking to former running back Jerome Bettis. “The Bus” made an interesting point when talking about running style. Bettis suggested that when faced with an inevitable situation of being tackled by two defensive players, it makes sense for the running back to target one of the defenders and go right at him.

The strategy of targeting one defender allows for the possibility that the running back might get through the defender and keep running. Or, the running back could at least get another yard or two while being taken down. Interestingly, Bettis suggested that trying to run between two defenders could subject him to more abuse, which makes sense to a certain extent given that the running back would be hit by two guys from different angles.

Obviously there is a safety component to this decision, as well as a liability issue given that the NFL is dealing with a potentially expensive class action lawsuit (via Fox Sports). However, one has to wonder if a rule change to avoid one type of injury may lead to another.

Obviously head injuries are the main issue here, but it seems reasonable to suggest that spine injuries would also be a major concern. This is not to suggest that injuries to joints are unimportant, but most would agree that brain and spinal cord injuries are the real problem. The ongoing problem is that football is very, very violent. Period.

What about offensive and defensive linemen who spend years pushing violently against each other? I can’t imagine that is good for your spinal cord. Will that eventually be addressed in some lawsuit?

Certainly there may be doctors and scientists working on this challenge, but the unfortunate reality is that there may never be a way to completely protect a player from football-related brain trauma. Did I mention that football is a violent sport?

This brings us back to Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch. Will he need to convert to “Nibble Mode”? How about “Run-Out-of-Bounds Mode”?

I was watching the NFL Network and they were talking about this rule change. As they showed a montage of video clips, I couldn’t help but notice that there was more than one clip of Lynch. Uh-oh.

Obviously every team will be impacted by this new rule. However, for teams with physical running backs, strategy may have to be adjusted a bit. Hopefully the Seahawks will still be able to utilize their talented Mr. Lynch to his full potential.