On Saturday, NFL line judge Mark Perlman stood at the front of the Eagles’ auditorium and stressed to a half dozen or so reporters that he and his fellow officials were simply “the messengers” of the new NFL rules, specifically the new helmet rule.
He forgot to mention that the night before in the meeting with Eagles players.
Perlman said some players were “fired up” about the new rule, which will penalize players 15 yards and could possibly lead to ejections for lowering their head to initiate contact. The rule is for offensive and defensive players, though Perlman said the offensive players don’t seem too concerned.
Defensive players, though, are concerned. And a couple days after the meeting with officials, they were still seeking clarity on a rule that might not come up a ton (Perlman said they found just a few cases in six Eagles games they watched from the 2017 season) but has the potential to change games.
One play that keeps coming up is Malcolm Jenkins’ hit on Brandin Cooks in Super Bowl LII.
Perlman said that one was “very close.”
The Malcolm Jenkins hit on Brandin Cooks probably doesn't get talked about enough. It was brutal and knocked a top player out of the game. pic.twitter.com/faFzfA0VJM— Dave Zangaro (@DZangaroNBCS) February 11, 2018
“It’s 50-50 depending on which referee you ask,” Jenkins said. “Some think it’s a foul and some don’t. We’ll see how that goes.”
That is perhaps the biggest inherent flaw with the new rule, which is one of many rules that have been added over the years to increase safety, is that so much of it is left up to the discretion of each individual official. That’s illustrated here because there isn’t a consensus on whether or not Jenkins’ Super Bowl hit is legal or not.
Similarly, an offensive player isn’t supposed to be penalized if he lowers his head in an attempt to brace for impact. When asked how it’s determined whether or not that player is bracing or being the aggressor, Perlman said it’s a judgment call.
Jenkins agrees that eliminating blatant head shots and flying arms to heads have improved the game, but he thinks “this might be a little overkill.” Several Eagles defenders were very upset about the rule change, feeling like rules in recent years have made it almost impossible for them to play their positions.
But Jenkins said he can’t worry about the new rule in the heat of battle. If he’s in a similar position as when he took out Cooks, he’s not changing.
“I’m going to make that play 10 times out of 10,” said Jenkins, who doesn’t think he would be ejected for that specific hit. “If it’s a flag, it’s a flag.”
It might be a flag. Or it might not. Really, that’s the problem.