Enhanced injury rate makes NFL feel compelled to ban hip-drop tackle

The players don’t want it. Plenty of fans will complain about it. The NFL nevertheless feels compelled to push for a ban of the hip-drop tackle.

The reason is simple. The league believes the play results in an injury rate at least 20 times hire than a normal tackle.

The NFL understands, we’re told, that it might not be as easy to spot in real time than a horse-collar tackle. But it should be easier to spot than violations of the rule against lowering the helmet and making forcible contact with an opponent.

Spotting it in real time is just part of the enforcement mechanism. Even if the officials miss it — especially when it happens (as it does most often) in the tackle box — the league will have the ability to impose discipline on the tackler after the fact, which will (in theory) get them to abandon a tactic the league regards as unsafe.

Of course, that will introduce issues regarding whether the hearing officers will agree with the league’s enforcement efforts. During Super Bowl week, Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Brooks, who along with former NFL receiver James Thrash handles the appeals of fines and suspensions for on-field infractions, expressed concerns about differentiating a hip-drop tackle from a normal effort to take a ball carrier to the ground from behind.

“One particular play, this play in college that happened to [Florida State quarterback] Jordan Travis,” Brooks told PFT Live in Las Vegas. “I saw — that was an effort play that a young man was hustling down the field, grab the guy, bring him down. It’s certain angles that are part of making a tackle. When you come in from the side and you grab a guy in that area, your body weight and your momentum is going to take you to the side versus you coming from behind someone grabbing, pulling back. There’s a very big difference in those two. So, do you call them the same? Do you say both are hip-drop tackles? Or do you rename one after the other? And I look at the play against the tight end, Andrews against . . . the Bengals. That was a good tackle to me. You look at the way that that kid angle came in the way that he was. He was not trying to pull back. He was trying to grab. He was trying to grab to the side and momentum roll. That’s how that — it wasn’t a grab from behind and pulled back. Now, we did have certain instances that were egregious where someone grabbed, wrapped around and rolled a guy back. That is definitely a tackle I don’t want to see.”

As formulated, the rule doesn’t make a distinction between tackling a player from behind and grabbing a player and pulling him back. For Brooks and Thrash, the final language of the rule, if adopted, will control. If they refuse to apply the rule as written, separate questions will arise as to their status as hearing officers.

Regardless, it sounds as if the rule will be passed, either next week or (if too many coaches complain) in May, when the owners meet without the coaches around. The league office really wants it. As we’ve seen in the past, when the league office really wants something, the league office tends to get it.

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