PHOENIX -- Steelers coach Mike Tomlin called them "ugly plays" and stressed the need to eliminate them from the game. But like many of the head coaches who weighed in over three days on the much-debated proposal, he was concerned about placing an additional burden on game officials to make another judgment call.
In the end, though, NFL owners wasted little time passing a player-safety proposal that will anger running backs but thrill defensive players who are tired of being the sole targets for helmet hits.
The Steelers were one of 31 teams who on Wednesday overwhelmingly voted for the rule that makes it illegal for a ballcarrier to use the crown of his helmet to deliver a blow when he is clearly outside of the tackle box.
"After everybody slept on it, we decided if we were going to do it, it made sense to pass the rule as proposed," Steelers president Art Rooney II said.
The only team to vote against the proposal on the final day of the NFL owners meetings at the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa was the Cincinnati Bengals.
Dean Blandino, league vice president of officiating, said the new helmet-use rule will result in a 15-yard penalty from the point of the infraction. He also said the rule is not reviewable by replay and will be a judgment call by the officials.
"The focus is going to be on the more extreme hits, the more extreme plays," Rooney said after the meeting in which all six proposals by the league's competition committee were passed. "Initially, it will be focused on, really, the obvious crown of the helmet type of hits.
"The concern, and I think there is a legitimate concern, was about how it is going to be officiated and how it's going to be taught."
The helmet rule was one of two proposals passed by the owners which are designed to protect defensive players. They also agreed to eliminate the use of peel-back blocks below the waist in the tackle box. A violation will result in a 15-yard penalty.
The tackle box is defined as the area between the offensive tackles and 3 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
Tomlin, one of five head coaches on a subcommittee for the league's Competition Committee, was among several coaches at the meeting who spoke out about his concern for just how the helmet rule would be officiated during the game.
But he was adamant those types of forcible hits by runners must be eliminated.
"I think it's obvious that we all want those types of plays out of the game," Tomlin said. "In spirit, they are obviously great rules that are intended for the good of the game, but officiating it is another thing."
Then Tomlin added, "I think that's what we are trying to avoid, the gray [area]. I think that we are talking about -- the obvious foul. I think that is a word that has been used here quite a bit in regards to it -- obvious. So we are trying to look for black and white as opposed to gray in regards to that."
Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay, who is chairman of the league's competition committee, said the NFL studied Week 10 and Week 16 of the 2012 season and found 11 instances in those two weeks when ballcarriers would have been penalized under the new helmet rule.
Under the new rule, incidental contact by the helmet of a runner or a tackler against an opponent shall not be a foul.
"Someone said last night that Jim Brown said he never lowered his head when he was a runner, so it can certainly be done," Rooney said. "When he needed to run over somebody, he lowered his shoulder, not his head."
Meantime, the Steelers were the only team to vote against the proposal to effectively eliminate the tuck rule -- the once-obscure rule that gained infamy after a 2001 playoff game between the Oakland Raiders and New England Patriots. The proposal passed by a 29-1 margin with two abstentions.
Curiously, the Raiders were one of the two teams -- the Washington Redskins were the other -- to abstain.
Rooney said the Steelers voted in favor of the four other proposed rule changes. Among those: Video review now will be allowed even when a coach cannot challenge or does not have a challenge. But the coach will be penalized 15 yards or lose a timeout, depending on when he threw the challenge flag.
The new tuck rule now states, "If, after an intentional forward movement of his hand, the player loses possession of the ball during an attempt to bring it back toward his body, it is a fumble."
"We didn't think it was necessary to make a change," Rooney said. "We were satisfied the rule was being officiated the right way. Why change something that's not broken, as far as were concerned?"
Gerry Dulac: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter: @gerrydulac. First Published March 21, 2013 4:00 AM