While harsher fines and possibly suspensions for flagrant hits could be coming immediately, NFL executive vice president of football operations Ray Anderson clarified Tuesday that the league isn't considering changing existing rules.
"We need to get our players firmly in line with the current rules," Anderson said, appearing Tuesday morning on ESPN Radio. In particular, Anderson said the focus is on defenseless players.
"What we're trying to make sure our players understand is that you should know the rules," Anderson said. "The coaches know the rules, the players should know the rules. And so if you are in violations of the rules -- particularly one of those trying to protect against head, neck injuries -- we're going to hold you to a higher standard."
Anderson said there is no intent to change any rules. "We are just going to enforce the existing rules much more to the letter of the law so we can protect our players," he said.
"If it's an illegal hit under the rules, then you're going to be held accountable. We get the pushback all the time that, 'What's a defender to do?' Well, we, in these situations, have to say the defender has to adjust his target area. The player has to wrap up. He has to do the things more fundamentally that we used to do ... when we used to tackle back in the day. We would like them to do more of that. But with the seriousness of the head and neck trauma and concussions generally, we've got a responsibility to just make sure that players understand and adapt."
Anderson was asked specifically about the helmet-to-helmet hit in Sunday's Ravens-Patriots game, in which New England safety Brandon Meriweather left the ground to lay a hit on Baltimore tight end Todd Heap.
"That in our view is something that was flagrant, it was egregious," Anderson said. "And effective immediately, that's going to be looked at at a very aggressive level, which could include suspension without pay."
Anderson noted that game officials have the authority to eject players in those situations and that the league plans to talk to officials "so their authority to eject will be clarified."
Anderson acknowledged that the league's intent to limit flagrant hits has been met with some criticism from those who fear it will change the game of football. He said he is confident players can adapt and that it is the league's responsibility to protect its players.
"We understand this is not just about the NFL," Anderson said. "This is about safety at our level, at the college level, at the high school level, at the pee-wee level, because we are the standard bearer and we are committed to safety at the highest level.
"So we will take all the criticism and all the backlash against those that say we are acting too aggressively in this regard. We are not going to be apologetic. We are not going to be defensive about it. We are going to protect our players and hopefully players at the lower levels as well by example."