Recently, players have argued the NFL is favoring the offensive side of the ball more than the defense. The cries were loudest in 2022 when Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett was flagged for “roughing the passer” on this Tom Brady sack.
refs called this roughing the passer on 3rd down and i genuinely do not know what Grady Jarrett could have done differently pic.twitter.com/VX6i0UpJiL— Christian D'Andrea (@TrainIsland) October 9, 2022
A call of that magnitude might not have mattered if it was in the first quarter, but it occurred in the fourth quarter on a third down that would have forced the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to punt and give the ball back to Atlanta. Tom Brady got a first down, and the Falcons were sent home with a loss.
When the Kansas City Chiefs played the Las Vegas Raiders on Monday Night Football the following day, Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones was flagged for the same penalty. While the NFL has a lot to clean up in the penalty department, they might start by fixing the technique of how defenders tackle.
Banning hip drop tackling in the NFL
According to the NFL’s Chief Medical Officer Allen Sills, there may be some offseason conversations about banning the “hip drop” tackling technique that ended Tony Pollard’s season in the playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
The #NFL is planning to have an "active conversation" this offseason about possibly banning the “hip drop” tackles, according to NFL's CMO Allen Sills. pic.twitter.com/9g66NULgby— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) February 4, 2023
On a routine dump-off pass from Dak Prescott to Pollard in the second quarter, 49ers safety Jimmy Ward tackled Pollard from behind, and his ankle got caught underneath Ward. Pollard was carted off the field with a high ankle sprain and fractured fibula because of how Ward tackled him.
In an interview with the Washington Post, CMO Allen Sills explains the tackling move and how it is similar to another sport.
“The techniques used on those tackles, in which the defender grabs the ball carrier from behind and then pulls him down while dropping the tackler’s own body to the ground, could be eliminated. That type of tackle, known in rugby as a ‘hip-drop tackle,’ was banned by the National Rugby League in Australia because of the injuries it caused.”
As mentioned, a similar tackling style has been prevalent in rugby and is causing the same problems. Certain players in the NRL have suffered broken ankles and lower leg injuries from the hip drop technique. On the NRL’s Reddit thread, the hip drop tackle is explained as follows:
The hip drop tackle technique involves a defender holding onto the hips or upper body of the ball carrier and lifting their own legs off the ground, dropping their body weight onto the ball carrier’s legs or feet. This technique often causes the ball carrier’s legs to become trapped under the defender’s body twisting the ankle or knee joint as they fall to the ground.
It’s hard to blame players for finding new ways to play the game in their favor. Tackling a running back like Derrick Henry, who has the size and frame comparable to a linebacker, is challenging to bring down in the open field.
Patrick Mahomes went down with an apparent ankle injury on this play late in the first quarter, but stayed in the game.— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) January 21, 2023
He is now headed to the locker room.pic.twitter.com/B5lMkKNKF3
However, according to Sills, the problem with this tackling style is that the risk of injury is extremely high. Whether intentional or not, Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Arden Key was criticized for a similar tackle on Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the Divisional Round. Mahomes was diagnosed with a high ankle sprain and played through it in the AFC Championship game, but he was not 100 percent healthy.
The latest injuries to Pollard and Mahomes, especially during the playoffs, could have prompted these offseason conversations. There have been other examples of the hip drop tackle during the 2022 season, but defensive players are left wondering what else they can do to play football. When Kleiman’s tweet was posted, many NFL players reacted to the news.
NFL players reaction... not loving it to say the least. pic.twitter.com/XecXQ54jM2— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) February 4, 2023
The NFL is constantly trying to make the game safer for all players. In 2005, the NFL banned the horse collar tackle because it was causing similar injuries to what the league is seeing with the hip drop style. Whether defensive players like it or not, Pollard’s injury might have fast-tracked a new ban to take place before the 2023 season.