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Hits on defenseless player could become reviewable by replay


Four years ago, the NFL became more vigilant regarding the rules against hits to the head and neck area of defenseless players. Which made NFL officials more willing to throw the flag when a helmet-to-helmet hit occurs on a player at a time when a helmet-to-helmet hit is prohibited.

The potential consequences of instructing officials to err on the side of protecting players (the league office has since abandoned that verbiage) include 15 yards of field position being sacrificed and, in the case of Sunday night’s Patriots-Chargers games, a defensive touchdown coming off the board. As a result, the question of whether an illegal hit has been applied to a defenseless player should be one of the plays eligible for replay review.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, it could be. Soon. The question is expected to be placed on the Competition Committee’s offseason agenda, which could culminate in a rule change being proposed to owners for the annual meetings in March. While a change may not happen in 2015, there’s a sense that it’s inevitable replay will be expanded at some point in the not-too-distant future to include these plays.

But that doesn’t mean plays like New England cornerback Brandon Browner’s hit on Chargers tight end Ladarius Green would be overturned. The standard for changing rulings on the field remains “indisputable visual evidence.” As the source explained it, the Browner hit would not have satisfied the standard because the replay did not include indisputable visual evidence that Browner completely avoided hitting Green in the head and neck area.

So maybe the point here is that, even if replay will be used in the future, the officials need to do a better job of identifying in real time whether a defenseless player has been struck in the head or neck.