In the interest of reducing head, neck, and spine injuries to active NFL Football players, a new Targeting rule will go into effect during the 2018 football season. The rule, however, is causing confusion among active players, broadcasters, and referees alike. The lack of clarity in rule 12-2-8 of the NFL rulebook is going to be a huge problem for the integrity of every game and could create penalties that turn the tide in terms of the outcome of those contests. The rule in article 8 of the NFL rulebook, according to USA Today, reads as follows: ARTICLE 8.

USE OF THE HELMET. It is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent. PENALTY: Loss of 15 yards. If the foul is by the defense, it is also an automatic first down. The player may be disqualified.

There are already too many subjective penalties called by NFL referees

Any NFL fan already knows the ambiguity and lack of clarity in holding calls and pass interference calls. The catch rule has also influenced the outcome of many NFL games. The referees are forced to call or not call penalties in very nuanced game situations.

As the NFL game has evolved, it is getting harder and harder for referees to accurately detect when holding or pass interference has occurred versus when an excellent block or defensive play has actually taken place.

The Targeting rule creates another subjective situation: Did a defensive player lower his head in order to initiate contact, or did it just appear that way because of the speed and movement of the players involved? Considering that Targeting is a personal foul and a 15-yard penalty, the introduction of this rule in 2018 NFL games potentially adds a third outcome-changing penalty call to each and every game.

Confusion among players

New York Giants linebacker Mark Herzlich was flagged for Targeting in a recent game against the Detroit Lions. Teammate Olivier Vernon's response following a video replay, according to the NY Post, was incredulity: “Have you seen it? I don’t know how you can teach on that. If somebody’s shorter than you and gets low, I just don’t know how you’re supposed to defeat that.

I don’t know. No idea."

Greg Joyce of the Post went on to report that Vernon asked a referee: “How we’re supposed to tackle somebody lowering their head against us...he really didn’t know how to explain [it].” Olivier Vernon’s frustration as an All-Pro defensive player continued: "Honestly, it’s really about what the referees deem is a penalty, I have no idea how it’s going to pan out, but it’s really on them.”

Personally, I've only watched bits and pieces of three or four televised pre-season NFL games this year. However, I have already overheard broadcasters replaying and discussing more than a couple nuanced game Targeting situations. My concern is that calling fouls in the NFL becomes like the NBA. Sometimes there are fouls and sometimes there aren’t.