We’ve had changes to the concussion protocol, the first coach firing and officiating controversies.
Another week in the NFL, and no end of talking points.
With Week 5 in the books following the Kansas City Chiefs’ 17-point comeback victory against the Las Vegas Raiders, let’s look at the biggest talking points from the past seven days.
A change coming?
The biggest story coming from Week 5 comes after two controversial roughing-the-passer penalties were called in two days.
The roughing-the-passer penalty is a rule which was implemented in an attempt to protect quarterbacks from hits that are deemed “unwarranted by the circumstances of the play” by the referees – in other words, hits that are way over the line.
The rule has been updated over recent years to increase the protection offered to quarterbacks. However, recent events have increased scrutiny on the penalty and when it is being called.
First, Grady Jarrett was deemed to have roughed Tom Brady on Sunday on a key third down as the Atlanta Falcons attempted to mount a comeback despite it looking like Jarrett had just tackled Brady. The resultant penalty helped the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hold onto the ball and end the game with a win.
And on Monday, the Chiefs’ Chris Jones was called for the same penalty after landing on Raiders QB Derek Carr, despite stripping the ball and also appearing to brace his fall.
The two penalty decisions have been lambasted by players, commentators and fans since and have increased calls for a review system to be put into place for these situations.
It’s unclear about whether systemic changes will happen as a result of these two incidents, but such controversial penalty calls have led to rules being tweaked or changed in the past – just look at the pass interference review change which came about after the ending to the 2019 NFC Championship game between the New Orleans Saints and the Los Angeles Rams (although that didn’t last very long).
In light of recent events involving Miami Dolphins starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, the NFL and NFL Players Association (NFLPA) announced on Sunday they were implementing new concussion protocols to further protect players.
And it just so happened that the first player to be ruled out from a game under these new rules was Tagovailoa’s replacement, Teddy Bridgewater.
The 29-year-old suffered a blow to the head during his first snap of the game. Although Bridgewater passed his evaluation and had no symptoms, a spotter saw him stumble, according to Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel.
Stumbling is a considered a sign of ataxia as it demonstrates impaired motor function. The league defines ataxia as “abnormality of balance/stability, motor coordination or dysfunctional speech caused by a neurological issue.”
Under the new regulations, a player showing signs of ataxia while being evaluated for a concussion would be prohibited from returning to the game.
There were other players ruled out of games during Week 5 because of the new protocols – Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Pat Freiermuth and New Orleans Saints wide receiver Chris Olave – as the league and players association attempt to protect players better.
Stuck in the mud
When you tune into an NFL game, you want to see high-flying feats of athleticism, big plays and lots of points – see Sunday’s high-flying 38-3 demolition that the Buffalo Bills laid on the Pittsburgh Steelers.
However, this season, offenses in general are finding it more difficult to score lots of points like in recent years.
Outside of the juggernaut teams – the Bills and the Chiefs, for example – converting long drives into touchdowns has become more difficult and that big play ability seems to have dried up for some.
In the last week, we’ve seen a tedious 12-9 Indianapolis Colts win over the Denver Broncos (which saw the Denver faithful leaving the stadium in a mass exodus before overtime), we’ve seen the reigning champion Los Angeles Rams score 10 points at home and we’ve seen Detroit Lions get shut out 29-0 by the New England Patriots.
Now, this could all be a blip. It could just be that players are still getting warmed up having not played in preseason. It could also be that defenses have wised up to the plays and schemes which have previously worked.
But it seems a surprising trend given how the league seemed to be going, with more offensively-minded coaches being hired and schemes being revolutionized to max out these high-powered attacks.
First one to go
On Monday, Matt Rhule became the first NFL coach of the 2022 season to be fired after he was let go by the Carolina Panthers.
Rhule has enjoyed a miserable time in Carolina, with a 11-27 record in two-plus years. His firing came a day after a 22-point home loss to the San Francisco 49ers which left the team with a 1-4 record this season.
Rhule joined the Panthers on a seven-year, $62 million contract in 2020 having previously coached college football with Baylor and Temple. According to NFL.com, he’s the first ever Panthers coach to serve fewer than three full seasons.
But he’s struggled to find a quarterback since joining. He’s tried out Sam Darnold, Teddy Bridgewater, Cam Newton and PJ Walker before trading for Baker Mayfield this offseason. None of these options have provided a long-term solution at the sport’s most important position, as Mayfield endures a tough start to the year.
Although Rhule has been replaced on an interim basis by defensive pass game coordinator/secondary coach Steve Wilks, the Panthers’ next hire will be an important one, with the roster interspersed with some talented players, such as running back Christian McCaffrey, wide receiver DJ Moore and defensive end Brian Burns.
It’s unclear if the Panthers will choose to reboot their roster with a new coaching staff – usually done by trading away the best players in exchange for draft assets – or will hope a change of personnel will change the momentum of the organization.
But for Carolina fans, it is yet another frustrating season having last made the postseason in 2017.