While the league is trying to crack down on illegal helmet-to-helmet hits by increasing the punishment from a fine to a possible suspension or ejection, there will always be inherent risks in playing football. We saw one of those risks on Sunday when Zack Follett was lying motionless on the turf after a collision with Jason Pierre-Paul on a kickoff. They met helmet-to-helmet on a play that was not close to being illegal.
“Both guys were trying to do their job,” Tom Coughlin said. “It’s unfortunate. Sometimes the head does get in the wrong position.”
It appeared that by lowering his head at the last second before impact, Follett left himself in a vulnerable position and the hit reverberated from the crown of his helmet through his body. It was the same kind of play that Domenik Hixon was involved in a few years ago when he collided with Kevin Everett, leaving Everett clinging to life and Hixon emotionally shaken up months after the play.
How can the NFL stop those kinds of “accidents” from happening?
“You stress it and you coach it,” Coughlin said. “If I stand in here for a special teams meeting, I’m just hearing over and over and over from Tom Quinn and Thomas McGaughey about keeping your head up. Keep your head up, keep your head up, keep your head up. Some of the guys who have played on our special teams units have been kind of backed up or taken off of a unit because the head has been in the wrong spot.”
Of course it’s one thing to drop or demote a fourth wide receiver from the kickoff coverage team. It’s another to yank a starting safety from the defensive backfield for leading with his head against a receiver, defenseless or not. Until coaches start doing that – or the league does through ejections or suspensions – the technique will continue.