This weekend Jay Cutler, Alex Smith and Michael Vick all suffered concussions that changed the games that they were in. A concussion is never a nice thing for the injured party but it also messes up the team that has the injured player. A concussion to your quarterback can disrupt a team massively and limits the chances of a win for the affected team.
When Michael Vick was taken out of the game with a concussion it appeared as if Nick Foles had answered the prayers of Eagles fans. Foles managed to move his team all the way up to the red zone and score in the third quarter to tie the game. Foles seemed to be able to get the offense moving, something Vick has struggled with for large periods of this season. But he couldn’t win the game for the Eagles, and after the third quarter his quality dropped: his passing was irregular and the calls from the sideline were not helping a quarterback playing his first game. Losing Vick should have changed the way the offense played but Reid and Marty Mornhinweg persisted with the game plan that hadn’t really been working for Vick, while hoping that Foles would be able to carry the team forwards.
In Chicago, the injury to Jay Cutler meant Jason Campbell was pushed into the firing line. Campbell definitely has more experience than Foles, and was once meant to be the franchise quarterback of the Redskins before he was dumped off to Oakland last year and released in favour of Carson Palmer in the off season. But in poor conditions, Campbell was incapable of throwing a touchdown. In half a game he simply couldn’t complete downfield. The Bears fell apart due to a passing offense that was incapable of being utilised in the pouring rain. In the end, the Texans won because they had a stronger running game and Arian Foster managed to get around the outside too often.
Injuries obviously change games. And concussions have to be taken seriously in the game. Cutler managed to play on after the hit that gave him his concussion but as soon as his symptoms were diagnosed, he was pulled from the game. But the tackles that left Cutler and Smith with concussions were due to a major problem with the game: helmet-to-helmet tackling. Smith took a hit to the back of his helmet as he was going to ground after a run. The helmet couldn’t protect him from the fierce headbutt of Jo-Lonn Dunbar. Cutler was taken out by a helmet-to-helmet collision from Tim Dobbins, a collision that is illegal and a blatant attempt to injure the quarterback by hitting him through the jaw. Both of these were completely needless challenges: Cutler had already thrown the ball and Smith was going down. But these challenges seem to occur all the time; RGIII already suffered a concussion from being tackled hard as he was going to ground.
What can you do though? Football is a violent sport, as is boxing, as is ice hockey, as is rugby. People will get hurt if they play them. Players also get hurt in non-contact sports as well. It is possible to get a concussion from anything, including falling out of bed or a bar-room brawl. Football may be a violent sport, but the best way for the league to reduce concussions is to make players more responsible for their own safety.
While research is going on into how to make the football helmet safer and more concussion proof, it may just be an easier step to make sure football helmets are not designed for tackling other players. By giving players the protection of the tough and sturdy helmet, you are also handing them a weapon to be used on the field. Clearly, the helmets are tougher than shinbones because the amount of dives head first at the legs of an opponent is dangerously high.
There are very few plays that seem to end with a traditional wrap and tackle, a form of tackling that means rugby players don’t need as much armour as their football equivalents. Rugby players rarely lead with their heads because it is incredibly dangerous, something that is still true with a helmet on. Concussions occur in rugby as well, but you never see players purposely using their head to tackle someone. Both Cutler and Smith were taken out by the use of the helmet as a weapon rather than a safety device. Maybe we should take a lesson from the Dark Knight here: “One man’s tool is another man’s weapon”.
I’m not saying that I know how to fix a problem like this because injuries happen. I’m also not saying that removing armour is the answer: added protection is not the problem here. The helmets lend to a sense of invulnerability. There is an attitude problem at the moment. Players want to make tackles and are making bad tackles because they are more effective at getting an opponent on the ground.
It’s something that has to be changed because concussions are never a desirable outcome from a tackle.