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Debate Friday: The Pittsburgh Steelers Rule

Posted May 27, 2011

Do you agree with the NFL's efforts to increase player safety via the Pittsburgh Steelers Rule? Cast your vote in our Debate Friday poll.

At the NFL owners meetings in Indianapolis this week, league officials approved three rules changes which had been discussed at the previous gathering in New Orleans back in March. All of them involved illegal hits and their definition.

Owners also came close to approving a measure that would fine clubs for excessive numbers of illegal hits during the course of a season. The idea, details of which are still being worked out, has been dubbed "The Pittsburgh Steelers Rule" due to the exorbitant amount of fines racked up last year by Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison.

The threshold for instituting fines is one of the details yet to be agreed upon, but it seems that the idea will pass soon. Which brings us to this week's Debate Friday question:

Do you agree with the NFL's efforts to increase player safety via the Pittsburgh Steelers Rule?

Read the arguments of the Patriots Football Weekly writers, then cast your vote in our poll.

Erik Scalavino says, "Yes..."

It's about time. I wrote a commentary in PFW last season lamenting the poor quality of tackling that has permeated the league. My argument came following a rash of fines issued to Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather and other defenders for their flagrant fouls on opponents. Among other things, I suggested that teams get back to coaching the basics of tackling to their players.

It seems the NFL agrees with me, as the following comments this week indicate.

"We are looking at a system ... to encourage clubs and coaches to teach the proper techniques and to correct dangerous play on the field," said Adolpho Birch, the NFL's vice president of law and labor policy.

"[T]he basic point of [the Steelers Rule] would be to check the number of fines that are going out for [individual player] infractions that relate to various safety violations, whether it be spearing or late hits or especially in regards to head and helmet issues, and try to modify those over the course of the year. As a club's total gets higher ... then we will impose some penalty and payback for those clubs to help encourage them to stay below that threshold."

For far too long, NFL coaches have been complicit in this area. I'm not saying they're actively encouraging their players to inflict harm on opponents and risk their own health and safety. However, by not placing an emphasis on proper technique during practice - something as simple as employing tackling sleds and dummies - and turning a blind eye to these horrendous and dangerous plays, they're essentially contributing to the problem by having allowed it to proliferate to the extent it has.

When you fall out of the habit of doing something properly, allowing fundamentals to lapse, quality suffers. And in this case, poor quality can and has lead to serious injury among NFL players - from both those receiving and inflicting dangerous hits.
 
Teams and their coaches won't take this issue of poor tackling seriously unless it's hitting them where it hurts most - their bank accounts. And that's exactly what the Steelers Rule seeks to do. Bravo, I say. It's long overdue.
~ ES


Paul Perillo says, "No..."

I would never question anyone's legitimate efforts to promote player safety. With the wear and tear their bodies endure playing football, players need all the help they can get in trying to remain as healthy as possible. I just don't believe this proposal has much if anything to do with player safety.

First, I don't like the idea of fining teams for having players who have been fined for illegal hits. Football is a physical game and the rules prohibit these reckless shots to the head and rightly so. They're dangerous plays that can result in serious injury. But in most cases these plays come as a result of spur-of-the-moment reactions and not necessarily with any malice or dirty intentions.

Understanding that a player needs to be responsible for his actions, fines for illegal hits are certainly understandable. But how exactly should the team be held accountable for that? Is the league suggesting that coaches encourage this type of behavior? If so, there should be more than a fine levied for that practice. Suspensions should be in order.

The Patriots had several players fined last year for illegal hits. Many other teams did as well. Does anyone believe Bill Belichick doesn't stress the importance of playing within the framework of the rules? He's one of the most prepared coaches the league has ever seen. His actions in one case in particular - Brandon Meriweather's multiple high hits against Baltimore - told me everything I need to know. Belichick benched Meriweather during that game after the safety buried Todd Heap with a shot to the head. Somehow fining Belichick for overseeing that is going to curtail those hits? I don't see it.

Also, if the league was so concerned about player safety wouldn't the idea of an 18-game season be eliminated rather quickly? Subjecting players to that added workload is potentially more damaging than these borderline hits, but yet that seems to be something the league endorses.

If the league feels a team is promoting dirty play - something that could likely have been argued with regard to the old Oakland Raiders of the 1970s or even Jeff Fisher's Tennessee teams - then fines would be deserved. Otherwise, I don't see the point.
~ PP

Your turn! Cast your vote in this week's Debate Friday poll.

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