Tony Pollard Rule? NFL to consider rule change after RB injury
The play that ended Tony Pollard’s postseason had huge ramifications on the Cowboys offense in their divisional-round loss to San Francisco last Sunday.
It may ultimately have an effect on every defensive player in the league moving forward.
The NFL Competition Committee is expected to consider looking into the “mechanics of the tackle” during their offseason discussions and could perhaps even ban so-called “hip-drop” tackles like the one employed by 49ers safety Jimmie Ward.
On the play, Ward corralled Pollard around the waist from behind and then threw out an anchor by swinging his hips, pulling Pollard down while dropping his own body to the turf. Pollard’s leg got twisted underneath Ward’s midsection, resulting in a high ankle sprain and fractured fibula.
After Mahomes yesterday another textbook high ankle sprain mechanism for Tony Pollard. This one appears worse, additional concern for fracture. Hip drop tackle again too – not always a “dirty” play but a technique with high risk of injury to ball carrier pic.twitter.com/1Tl78OFkPo
— NRL PHYSIO (@nrlphysio) January 23, 2023
A similar tackle in Kansas City earlier in the day sent Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes to the locker room during their playoff game versus Jacksonville. Mahomes was able to return, though his movements were visibly limited. He will likely play through his high ankle sprain when Kansas City hosts the Bengals in the AFC title game.
Pollard had ankle surgery this week; the fibula will be left to heal on its own. He is expected to be fully healthy before training camp, but had the Cowboys won Sunday’s game, they would obviously have been without their 1,000-yard-rusher’s services for a conference championship appearance.
It’s important to note that both tackles were perfectly legal under the current rules. No flags were thrown, and it’s highly improbable that any punishment or fine is coming for Ward or Jaguars linebacker Arden Key.
The Washington Post notes that Australia’s National Rugby League banned hip-drop tackles after they “saw an increased occurrence of these types of tackles, some of which resulted in serious injuries to attacking players including a broken ankle, ACL tear, and many high-ankle sprains.” Starting in 2020, the NRL even imposed mutligame suspensions for players who used the technique.
To identify a hip-drop, that league looks for an “unnatural” movement that lets the tackler “drop or swing their hip[s] around.” The goal is not to ban lower-body tackles, but to discourage defenders from “trapping the legs/ankles of [ballcarriers] by dropping their body weight through their hips, legs, or buttocks.”
If the NFL does adopt a “Tony Pollard” penalty that outlaws the hip-drop, it would be far from the first time a Cowboys player has given birth to a new rule.
Most famous is the “Roy Williams Rule,” the one that made the horse-collar tackle illegal after the Cowboys safety made a habit of using it during the early part of his career. In 2005, wide receiver Terrell Owens, then with the Eagles, suffered a high-ankle sprain and broken fibula when Williams tackled him on a play that eerily resembled the Pollard incident.
The hip-drop is essentially a horse-collar tackle without the grasping of or reaching into the ballcarrier’s jersey at the neckhole, but the finishing movement is the same and presents the same danger to the player being dragged to the ground.
And it may soon be against the rules on an NFL field.
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