If you think that NFL players should be taking punishing hits to the head because “that is part of the game” this article is probably going to hurt your feelings. If you’ve ever taken a hard helmet to helmet shot, I find it hard to believe you would wish that on anyone else, but maybe you do. Maybe you think since you had to bear it, all football players should.
Helmet to helmet hits happen, but they are NOT supposed to happen often.
It has been thirteen years since my last helmet to helmet hit, and I still remember never wanting to go through it again. I didn’t sustain a concussion on the hit that I know of, and still remember vividly what happened. I was playing the strong-side end position, and was given a free release off the line of scrimmage. I thought I had a clear shot at the ball carrier and got excited, but right at that moment, I forgot to look for the pulling guard, and he got me with the crown of his helmet right in my earhole.
The shot took me out of the play, but I did get up and rejoin the huddle afterwards without coming off the field. I remember the pressure building up in my forehead, and the ringing in my ears that lasted for the next five minutes or so. My vision was slightly blurred, but eventually refocused. When we got off the field I found some relief in an icepack to the side of my head and on the back of my neck. The pain didn’t go way in the side of my neck for days, but naturally I played through it. It was a neck stinger, and any who has ever had one knows how uncomfortable that is.
After a few days the pain subsided and I was fine. I don’t think I have suffered any long term effects from it, though I am still young, and did not take very many of those hits playing as a defensive lineman. I also don’t remember dealing any out. From the moment I began playing football, my coaches stressed proper tackling technique.
- Square up to the ball carrier with your arms out
- Get your head up and across his body, or “on the ball”
- Slam your arms shut around his waist to “wrap up”
- Drive your legs through the tackle, don’t leave your feet.
Thomas Davis is one of the best tacklers in the NFL. You could show any young athlete the following clips as a quick clinic on the EXACT way to tackle a ball carrier.
Notice in the above clip that even though the ball carrier has a full head of steam, Davis meets him in the hole with perfect technique and superior leverage, stopping him for no gain. The impact on the ball carrying arm causes a fumble, and the Panthers take over. Points 1 through 4 played to perfection.
Here, Davis is in an extremely disadvantageous position. He is one-on-one with one of the most elusive players in the NFL, Darren Sproles. Regardless of Sproles perfectly timed spin move, which makes Davis miss in getting his head across the football... thanks to Davis’ ability to square up, widen out his arms and use his momentum, he is able to wrap Sproles up, stopping him in his tracks. This is usually a situation that sees Sproles gain another ten yards minimum when he is matched up in the open field on a linebacker.
On the other hand... this is NOT how you tackle.
Here the defender is overmatched in size. But, had he put his arms out and wrapped up instead of folding them into his chest while targeting Cam’s waist he might have made the tackle. He also stopped churning his feet, instead opting to dive into the tackle. Had he kept his feet going, he would have stopped Newton’s momentum or knocked him to the boundary sooner.
This is not even an ATTEMPT to tackle. This is 100% a malicious shot with intent to injure. Completely stationary, ball out way before movement, arms folded in, leading with the crown of his helmet into Newton’s chin. Brandon Marshall should face a 6-figure fine and a suspension for this hit. We currently await word from the NFL about his punishment, though they have acknowledged the hit was illegal and the call was missed.
The assertion that these types of hits are necessary to bring down Cam Newton are fundamentally false. Cam is about the size of a tight end, and I've seen defensive backs successfully make form tackles even on the best of them. If you get your head across a players waist and wrap up, they will go down. Especially if you drive through the tackle. Is it difficult to tackle someone the larger they are? Sure it is. You have shoulder pads for a reason. They are meant to absorb the blow on your shoulders as you use it to tackle people.
Someone being larger than average does not provide any reason to make an illegal hit more forgivable, nor should someone like that be expected to deal with such hits because they are larger. Your head is not something you can strengthen or condition to better absorb hits. A person sustaining repeated blows to the head over time is going to suffer ill-effects like concussions and potentially chronic diseases like persistent migraines, CTE, or early-onset dimentia.
Football is not intended to be played this way. It is not taught this way, and it should be an outlier instead of a norm to see helmet to helmet hits. The NFL has an intrinsic responsibility to protect their employees, and their inaction on the part of Cam Newton to this point is shameful.