By Bill Bradley, contributing editor
Editor's note: This is one in a four-part series looking back at the four player health and safety rules that were approved at the NFL Annual Meeting last year. The 2014 Annual Meeting begins Sunday in Orlando with more safety-related rules expected to be on the table.
THE RULE: A ban on a ball carrier initiating contact with the crown of his helmet in the open field or by a defender while making a tackle.
What the rule changed: A 15-yard penalty was called if a runner or a tackler initiates forcible contact by delivering a blow with the top/crown of his helmet against an opponent when both players clearly are outside the tackle box (an area extending from tackle-to-tackle and from 3 yards beyond the line of scrimmage to the offensive team's end line). Incidental contact by the helmet of a runner or a tackler against an opponent was not to be deemed a foul.
Why the change was made: The NFL was trying to avoid concussions at all costs, so this rule made it illegal for players to use their helmets as weapons. Using the helmet on hits against receivers already was illegal, so this marked the next logical step.
The reaction: Although NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell backed the rule, current and former players, such as Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte and Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk, criticized it. However, NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported that the rule passed by a 31-1 margin, with only the Cincinnati Bengals voting against it.
The impact: Despite controversy upon approval, the penalty was called fewer than a dozen times during the regular season. NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino said in October he was pleased with how players had accepted the safety rule. "We are very encouraged with the results so far," Blandino said. "We have not seen a lot of examples of that throughout the first (five) weeks of the season."