[size=18]Packers should reveal QB's helmet info
By Gregg Easterbrook
All across the United States, football players and their parents -- there are 500 high school football players for each NFL player -- are worried about concussions, which a report released last week shows are rising in incidence.
Aaron Rodgers of the Packers, who will start at quarterback in the upcoming Super Bowl, just switched to a helmet he thinks offers superior protection. Rodgers says the helmet prevented a concussion when he took a brutal blow to the head from Julius Peppers of the Chicago Bears in the NFC Championship Game.
So a Super Bowl quarterback has found a helmet that might reduce the concussion plague, protecting huge numbers of football players at the college, high school and youth levels. Good news?
Here's the catch -- Rodgers won't tell you what kind of helmet he switched to. Neither will the Green Bay Packers. A Super Bowl quarterback and his team have information that might increase neurological safety -- and won't share it.
During the regular season, Rodgers suffered two concussions. When he returned to the field late in the year, Rodgers said he had switched to a helmet that reduces concussion risk. But he wouldn't be specific, leaving college and high school coaches and players in the dark. A month ago, Tuesday Morning Quarterback asked the Packers to reveal the type of helmet on Rodgers' head, and a Packers spokesman said the team would not.
After the NFC title game, Rodgers told Peter King of NBC he thought his new helmet prevented the vicious hit by Peppers -- whom the league fined $10,000 for unnecessary roughness -- from causing another concussion. "As much as the new helmet feels uncomfortable and I'm still getting used to it, I'm really happy I was wearing it on that hit,'' Rodgers said to King. But King's report did not include the critical item of information that all other football players, and the parents of young players, need -- namely, what kind of helmet.
[img_r]http://a.espncdn.com/photo/2011/0131/pg2_a_rodgehelmet_200.jpg[/img_r]So I asked the Packers again. Jeff Blumb, the team's director of public relations, told me, "I did check again on your behalf, and that's still not information we're comfortable sharing outside of our building."
Each year 1.1 million boys, and a few girls, play middle school and high school football.
All risk permanent neurological harm, while few will receive a college sports scholarship and hardly any will earn a dime in the NFL. Many high school football players -- probably the majority, there are no definitive statistics -- take the field in outdated-design "shell" helmets without any concussion-resistant engineering. They do so partly because new-generation helmets cost about $200 each, and many high schools have budget problems.
But the main reason large numbers of high school players wear obsolescent helmets is that below the level of the pros and big colleges, coaches, parents and athletic directors have no idea which helmets are best. They look to the top of the sport, the NFL, for guidance -- and receive none. Now a Super Bowl team, the Green Bay Packers, believes its quarterback is safer in a particular helmet type, and won't reveal the information that might reduce brain injury risk throughout the sport.
Like any athletic enterprise, the Packers have reason to keep game plans, training techniques and other such specifics private. But safety information should never be proprietary. Any information that improves sports safety should be declared openly, to all.
NFL teams may be squeamish about revealing which helmets players wear because they think such an action makes them liable for any harm someone might sustain after donning a helmet of that type. As TMQ detailed here in November, this view is likely to be incorrect, in legal terms. But if Green Bay is being held back by a mistaken belief about liability, the NFL needs to step in, and say, clearly, what helmet type and model is worn by Rodgers. Safety information must never be withheld from the public. Withholding safety information is irresponsible. If a Super Bowl quarterback has found a helmet type that he believes reduces concussion risk, the team and the league have an ethical obligation to share the details.
Riddell is the NFL's helmet provider; players are free to wear other helmets, so long as they obscure the brand. This is why the white stripe on the back of an NFL helmet may say a team's name; that means the player is not wearing a Riddell, and has covered the Riddell logo. But just knowing a helmet brand isn't enough -- the model must be known, too. Riddell and Schutt, the leading manufacturers of football helmets, sell helmets engineered to reduce concussion risk and helmets that lack such engineering. The public needs to know both the brand and the model of whatever is on the head of Aaron Rodgers.
Riddell's advanced Revo Speed model (which my older son wore when playing college football) and the Schutt DNA (which I bought my young son when he played JV) are designed to reduce concussion risk, and data show this works. Is Rodgers wearing a Riddell Revo Speed or a Schutt DNA? The Schutt Ion helmet also has advanced engineering -- is Rodgers wearing an Ion? Is he wearing a Xenith X1, a new helmet brand designed around concussion prevention? Is he wearing the new Rawlings Quantum, which goes on the market soon, and was designed to reduce concussion risks? The public needs to know.
None of these helmets assures against concussions. The best case is that an advanced helmet reduces the wearer's risk by lowering concussion incidence. Even in the best new helmets, concussions can occur and can be severe. Getting improved helmets onto every football player's head will be no panacea -- other reforms are needed to make the game less dangerous. But getting a concussion-resistant helmet onto every player's head is an important first step.
Though the NFL has been encouraging players to switch to any of the advanced helmets mentioned above, the NFL does not mandate their use. This is a short-sighted policy TMQ has been objecting to since the Riddell Revolution, the first-generation helmet engineered to reduce concussion risk, went on sale eight years ago.
Regardless, a starting quarterback in Sunday's Super Bowl has found a helmet brand and model that he believes offers superior protection against concussions. Yet he won't say what the helmet is, and the Green Bay Packers won't say either. Rodgers and the Packers should be widely criticized for this. Why won't they tell the country's million high school football players, and the players' parents, what the NFL knows about safety?
In other football news, it's hard to think of a more appealing Super Bowl pairing than the Packers, winners of the first two Super Bowls, versus the Steelers, with a league-best six Super Bowl trophies. The pairing is especially appealing since the Packers were established in 1919 and the Steelers in 1933, yet they have never met in the playoffs.
I can't wait to take my seat at Cowboys Stadium in a place that is definitely not Dallas, and I know you'll be tuned in for the kickoff at VI:XX Eastern. See below for a few scout's notes, and an item on how the Steelers and Packers were built.
And don't get up to make a sandwich during the fourth quarter! In recent Super Bowls, the fourth quarter has been the best part.
In the past three Super Bowls, 70 points were scored in the first three quarters, then 59 points were rung up in the fourth quarter. Three years ago in the Jersey/A-New England Super Bowl, the Patriots contained Eli Manning 'til the fourth quarter, when he threw for 152 yards, the rate of a 600-yard passing game. Two years ago in the Pittsburgh-Arizona Super Bowl, the Steelers contained Kurt Warner 'til the fourth quarter, when he threw for 247 yards, the rate of a 1,000-yard passing game. Last year in the Indianapolis-New Orleans Super Bowl, the Saints won their rings by outscoring the Colts 15-0 in the fourth quarter.
And what happened the last time the Steelers and Packers played, during the 2009 season? There were 38 points in the first three quarters, 35 points in the fourth quarter. The Packers and Steelers combined for 323 yards of offense in the fourth quarter -- the rate of a 1,200-yard game -- as the fourth-quarter possession results were touchdown, field goal, touchdown, field goal, touchdown and finally touchdown by Pittsburgh, to win, on the game's final play.
So if recent Super Bowls, and the most recent Packers-Steelers game, are any guide, don't go anywhere in the fourth quarter. That's when the fun begins.
In column news, the Tuesday Morning Quarterback Challenge returns -- limited engagement. See below.Stat of the Week No. 1
Super Bowl coaches Mike McCarthy and Mike Tomlin have a combined 9-3 postseason record.Stat of the Week No. 2
The Pittsburgh defense allows 3 yards per rush and 6.3 yards per pass -- both NFL-best figures.Stat of the Week No. 3
The Packers' and Steelers' offenses have allowed a combined 95 sacks, about the same as allowed by playoff teams New Orleans, New England, Indianapolis and Atlanta combined.Stat of the Week No. 4
Pittsburgh made the Super Bowl despite a terrible passing game statistically in the postseason -- eight sacks, average of just 157 yards per game passing net, 75.5 passer rating for Ben Roethlisberger.Stat of the Week No. 5
Green Bay's six regular-season losses were by a combined 20 points.Stat of the Week No. 6
Since the start of the 2009 season, the Steelers are 16-4 when Troy Polamalu plays and 6-8 when he does not.Stat of the Week No. 7
Pittsburgh has the league's best defense against points, and Green Bay has the second-best defense against points.
[img_r]http://a.espncdn.com/photo/2011/0131/pg2_broncoserica_200.jpg[/img_r]Stat of the Week No. 8
When Aaron Rodgers is at quarterback, Green Bay has averaged 34 points per game in the playoffs.Stat of the Week No. 9
Five of the past six teams to reach the Super Bowl -- Green Bay this season, New Orleans and Indianapolis last year, Pittsburgh and Arizona the year before that -- did not have a 1,000-yard rusher.Stat of the Week No. 10
The Packers and Steelers enter the final game on a combined 8-0 postseason streak.Cheerleader of the Week
Erica of the Denver Broncos, who according to her team bio hosts a TV show on a Denver local-access channel and has been reading "In Defense of Food" by Michael Pollan, which contends that people should eat the foods -- mostly plants -- that our distant ancestors ate. The book's position is similar to advocacy of the Paleolithic diet.
[...]Super Bowl Scout's Notes:
When the Packers and Steelers met in 2009, the result was an Arena League-like 37-36 final score. The teams combined for 848 yards passing versus 125 yards rushing. Counting sacks and scrambles, the coaches combined to radio in 104 passing plays against just 27 rushes. From the middle of the fourth quarter until the scoreboard read all-naughts, Pittsburgh coaches called 22 consecutive passing plays. Maybe it's just as well Vince Lombardi didn't live to see that contest. But the game sure was fun to watch.
A few things jump out from film of that game. One is that Ben Roethlisberger, who throws the deep sideline route better than any other NFL quarterback, made most of his big plays, including the winning touchdown pass as time expired, along the deep sideline.
Green Bay coaches have two weeks to look at Steelers film. There's no way they will miss this. So you'd expect the Packers to be prepared for deep sideline routes. Which means Green Bay might expect the Steelers to surprise them by throwing down the middle. Which means the deep sideline routes might be there -- reverse psychology. In that game, Aaron Rodgers made his big connections in front of the safeties. Which Steelers coaches cannot fail to notice. Which means -- you get the rest.
Kicking a field goal to pull ahead 30-28 with four minutes remaining, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin elected to onside kick. It was a brilliant call, though it didn't work. Afterward, old-timers complained that Tomlin wasn't showing faith in his defense. Tomlin, as defense-minded as they come, was playing the percentages: Had the onside succeeded, and surprise onsides usually do, Pittsburgh would have been in the driver's seat. Because Green Bay remembers that onside, and because an onside was a deciding play in last year's Super Bowl, there's no way Pittsburgh will onside kick in this Super Bowl, right? More reverse psychology may be in store.
The Packers tackled poorly in their 2009 loss. Even an average defensive performance would have led to Green Bay victory. At the endgame, Green Bay clinging to a lead, the Packers used mainly a three-man rush which backfired, allowing a completion on fourth-and-7, another pivotal completion with 20 seconds remaining, then the winning touchdown on the final snap. On the fourth-and-7 conversion, Green Bay had eight to cover five, yet there was only a linebacker on Santonio Holmes (then with Pittsburgh), who made a 32-yard gain. If the Packers hold a late lead again and use the three-man rush again, they'll have only themselves to blame.
Watch the Pittsburgh offensive line on rushing plays. Often the Steelers' line uses an unorthodox "double-side" blocking technique in which blockers simply push whichever way the defensive front seven players are moving at the snap. In double-side blocking, many rushes are stuffed, while occasionally there's a gaping hole for a long run. Most offensive coaches don't like double-side blocking because the technique is so unpredictable. But chaos reigns when the Steelers have the ball, whether it's a rush or a pass.
When the Packers have the ball, the sideline looks like a subway station as players shuffle in and out. Surely the Steelers have spent their long two-week break practicing getting situation packages of defenders on and off the field quickly as the Packers substitute. Perhaps the Packers will go no-huddle, in order to force the Pittsburgh defense to play only with starters.
When everyone expects a high-scoring game (Pat Forde expected the BCS title game to end 49-45), your columnist expects low scoring (actual was 22-19). When everyone expects low scoring, TMQ predicts a high-scoring game. Considering the Steelers and Packers are both top defensive teams, everyone's forecasting a low-scoring game, which makes TMQ think we're in for a scoreboard-spinner. That, after all, is what happened the last time Green Bay and Pittsburgh met.