The NFL Needs to Use College Football’s Targeting Rule

Two plays in a span of four showed why the NFL has not done anything to prevent concussions.

On a pass play over the middle, Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson was hit by Bears safety Ryan Mundy over the middle. It was as routine as a football play can be – Nelson jumped up the catch the ball, landed and Mundy hit Nelson with his shoulder. So obviously, a flag was thrown for Mundy hitting a defenseless receiver.

nfl knocked out cold
It was the type of play that gives credence to the cretins tweeting National Flag Football League. Nelson was not defenseless. If he was, every receiver ever catching a ball would be defenseless. Mundy didn’t lead with his helmet or aim for Nelson’s head.

Just three plays later, the Bears appeared to have a defensive stop as Eddie Lacy was tackled short of the first down. However, there was a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness on Bears LB D.J. Williams who – like an idiot – launched himself helmet-first at Lacy as he lay on the ground. It was a terrible, stupid play by Williams. Of course, everyone in Soldier Field booed.

That, in a nutshell, is why concussions are not being eliminated from the NFL. There is no consistency and, even worse, no true punishment. The play by Williams is exactly the play that needs to be removed from football forever – the moron morphing into a projectile missile. However, he received the same penalty as Ryan Mundy did for making a solid football play.

We wonder why NFL players get upset. Roger Goodell, as he usually does, has contrived so much noise and bluster about protecting players that nothing has changed, except players are getting fined more. Those fines don’t make concussions un-happen.

Meanwhile, the amount of vicious helmet shots on Saturday has dwindled dramatically and noticeably. In fact, it becomes national news when one player is not called for targeting and another player is not benched despite suffering a likely concussion.

It is all thanks to the targeting rule, which I said could save the sport of football. I don’t know if it will save it – that ship may be sailing – but it could change it.

During the very first game of the year, a South Carolina wide receiver went to catch a post pattern in the end zone. The Texas A&M defender – later revealed to be a mere freshman – turned his head and hit with the shoulder directly on the football to break up the play. Neither player went to the ground. Neither player was carted off. Most importantly, no one cried foul about college football turning into flag football.

So why the difference? Because a targeting penalty in college football carries a substantial punishment – you are ejected from the game. And if it happens in the second half, you miss the first half of the next game.

While its initial introduction was controversial, the NCAA made the smart decision to ensure every targeting call and ejection is reviewed. From the games I’ve watched, every ultimate decision has been correct. Yes, sometimes a flag is thrown for a good play. Yes, it is momentarily annoying. Yes, it is immediately rectified.

The targeting rule is perfect in its simplicity. If you lead with your helmet or target the head of another player, it’s a penalty. That’s it. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what you can and cannot do.

The penalty is likewise perfect because it sends a clear and distinct message to players to change how they play. Players want to play. If you take that away, there are consequences and they have to answer to their coaches and teammates.

In the NFL, players are fined – a punishment that ultimately means little and only antagonizes players. If players are suspended, they rightly get upset because there is no consistency and the NFL is constantly changing the rules on them.

Look above to Ryan Mundy’s penalty; it was based on the subjective notion that Nelson was defenseless. Meanwhile, in college, the rule is cut and dry – don’t hit a guy in the head or with your head!

It’s remarkable to think that the NCAA, one of the worst organizations on the planet, is so far ahead of the NFL, one of the most profitable organizations in human history.

If football wants to survive as a sport, it needs to fundamentally change. We are seeing that on the college level. The sport is still football but the nauseating helmet-to-helmet hits are thankfully starting to disappear. They aren’t all gone. But the idiots who remain are quickly ushered to the locker room.

In the NFL, players like Brandon Meriweather still do this:

And still say stupid things like this:

“I tried to aim at his numbers,” Meriweather said. “I kind of seen the pass go, and I went in and aimed low, and I hit him with my shoulder. I did everything my coaches taught me to do, and I got the flag."

Brandon Meriweather was looking at the ground when he made that tackle. In an era where we know so much more about concussions, that should be an obvious no-no. Instead, Meriweather claims he was in the right and complains about a two-game suspension.

If the NFL had the college football targeting rule – a clear, cut and dry definition – he would have nothing to say.

That’s why the NFL needs the targeting rule. 

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