I’m getting ready for work tonight and I get a text from my son, who is at my parents’ house for Christmas (I’m working all weekend). He and Dad are watching the La Tech-Navy game and wondered why somebody got ejected for targeting for blasting somebody in the ribs. He was under the impression that a shot to the head had to be involved. I realized I’d never looked up the rule and decided to do so, and here’s what I found:
Targeting is taking aim for any blow that goes beyond making a tackle, making a block or playing the ball. Any blow delivered with the top of the tackler’s helmet is automatically targeting (what we called a “form tackle” 40 years ago), whether the runner is defenseless or not. Any helmet to helmet blow to a defenseless player is targeting, and that’s usually what we think of with the modern rule. But so is launching to make a hit in the head or neck area; a crouch followed by an upward/forward thrust to hit the head or neck area, even if both feet remain on the ground; leading with helmet, shoulder, forearm, fist, hand or elbow for any hit to the head or neck; or lowering the head to initiate contact with the crown of the helmet. I won’t get into the criteria for a defenseless player, other than to note that the rulebook specifies nine different situations in which a player is deemed defenseless.
In this case, from my son’s description, the tackler hit a guy, defenseless or not, in the ribs with the crown of his helmet; 15 yards, targeting, season over. Which makes sense, if you view this as a safety rule (which is the intended purpose). The best way for a tackler to break his neck is to hit somebody with the crown of the helmet, what we used to call spearing.
One of the nine situations that is deemed to constitute a defenseless player is that of a QB who is either in the process of making a pass or has just released the ball. That may apply in this case, although I understand the original flag was for roughing the passer, not targeting; the booth review added the targeting call with the ejection. Hitting with the crown, though, is targeting whether he’s defenseless or not.
Form tackling as it is taught since I played pee wee football on up:
Was defender leads ball carrier with head up and in front of the ball carrier if at angle and defender making contact with his shoulder pads to any part of the ball carrier’s body below the neck.
If straight on tackle, defender should square up with wide stance and feet being set at approx. same width as his shoulders for leverage leaning forward and head up bury your face mask in ball carriers chest and drive him up and back or leading with either shoulder making contact below the neck.
Unless the ball carrier out weighs the defender by 25 lbs or more, defender better go lower at point of contact and hope for the best.
If players are taught good fundamentals early and often, they become 2nd nature to utilize.
That’s the proper way to do it, with the shoulder. Pete Carroll has an interesting take on this that he teaches the Seahawks, a variation of the tackling they do in rugby where they don’t wear helmets. Seattle will still hit you (the Legion of Boom name was well earned) but they don’t use their heads.
But here’s what I was taught: Square your shoulders to the ballcarrier. As you move in for the tackle, keep your head up (‘see what you hit’), but the first thing to make contact is the forehead of the helmet to the runner’s sternum. As you make contact, swing both arms around the sides of the runner to “lock him up”. It doesn’t take much for that forehead contact to become crown contact, and that will now get you tossed.
Hence, the reason for shoulder pads designed as they are and have always been as the most protected area. To absorb full speed contact by ball carrier, defenders making tackles, full speed blocking, etc. Lower the shoulder to make contact.
Spearing was mostly called when an offensive player had already stopped forward progress and/or was going to the ground and then hit by another defensive player leading directly with his head.
However there used to be a lot of helmet to helmet hits with no flag if both players had lowered their heads causing it. Now days if the offensive player lowers his head at last second causing helmet to helmet contact - flag and possibility of targeting on defense 90% of the time.
That is my biggest problem with the rule today. I don’t know the answer. I get the purpose of the rule. But it appears to me that many times the only reason their is “helmet to helmet” contact is because the offensive player moved his head.
It’s actually supposed to be an offensive penalty if the offensive player lowers his head. I’ve only seen it called on the offensive player 1 time. I believe the rule was instituted last year. So, that’s a lot of games, and I only know of one call.