Starks' Sideline Collision Tests Rule Change

Rules are always open to interpretation. That's why Brandon Meriweather's two collisions against Packers ball-carriers on Sunday are still under the microscope. Read here why Packers running backs coach Alex Van Pelt defended James Starks lowering his head on the second collision.

Four days later, two vicious hits in Sunday's game between the Green Bay Packers and Washington Redskins are still resonating.

The first hit — a crown-of-the-helmet collision delivered from Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather to the ear hole of Packers running back Eddie Lacy — has kept Lacy from practicing the last two days as he underwent concussion tests. Lacy still has a chance to play this Sunday at Cincinnati.

The second hit — a helmet-to-helmet collision along the sideline between Meriweather and Packers running back James Starks — was the subject of conversation between reporters and Packers running backs coach Alex Van Pelt on Thursday.

"We don't coach to put your head down ever," responded Van Pelt to how he instructs his position group. "We coach to keep your eyes up and use your stiff arm, use your other techniques to make guys miss as opposed to running them over. Now, my interpretation of the rule, there will be some instances where there is helmet-to-helmet contact, but the one James Starks had on the sideline with Meriweather, that's a side-to-side hit as opposed to head-on. The other thing we talked about was if a guy made the quick decision, was in traffic and put his head down, it has to be a legitimate, ‘I'm lining you up and I'm lowering my head with my crown to run you over with my head.' We don't coach that here, so I don't expect to see much of that."

In his above comments, Van Pelt was referring to a rule change — voted through this past spring at NFL owners meetings — which can penalize an offensive player now for using the crown of his helmet against a defender outside the tackle box and 3 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.

"I'm all for it," said Van Pelt. "Obviously, this game's about safety right now and concussions and, as an ex-player, you feel for those guys. You've been around enough guys that have had those issues and have issues down the road with concussions and obviously it's a smart rule. I don't think it takes anything away from these guys as runners. You've just got to be smart with it. Safety first. And I'm all for it."

On the sideline collision, it was Starks who initiated contact as much as Meriweather. And though Starks lowered his head on the play, was outside the tackle box and was more than 3 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, Van Pelt was fine with the play. Neither player could be deemed at fault for the helmet-to-helmet contact.

"James protected himself," said Van Pelt. "He didn't stop to line him up and run over him with his head. He ducked his head to protect himself. So, that was good balance on the boundary by James.

"We do coach violence on the boundary, like Franco Harris didn't like to step out (of bounds), we like to make you feel it, take shots when we can, take blows."

Starks' blow sent Meriweather to the ground, knocked out temporarily. Starks stayed upright, no worse for the wear. The initial rush of excitement for the play in front of the Packers' bench was quickly quelled.

"At first I was kind of amped up, but after I seen he was down, you don't wish that on nobody's life so I kind of bowed my head, prayed to God and hoped that he was OK," said Starks just after the game. "You know, it was a good thing he got up. He'll continue to be good."

"That could have been a shot to James, too," added Van Pelt. "In Meriweather's defense, that's a legal hit. He's coming from the side on the sidelines, so that's not deemed helmet-to-helmet."

No penalty flag was thrown on the Starks hit, nor was one thrown on the Lacy hit. Meriweather, however, was fined $42,000 for his hit on Lacy with his history of being fined for "illegal" hits no doubt playing a role. He was a limited participant in practice the last two days, and like Lacy, his game status is unclear.

As for Starks, coming off a 132-yard rushing performance, the Packers' first 100-yard rusher since 2010, he will make his first start of the season against the Bengals. Their defense should provide another tough challenge in the trenches as more hits to the helmet are possible.

"I just think, you know, it's football, it's a physical game," said Starks this week on the Mike McCarthy Show. "You never really know what's going to happen. I know a lot of guys don't lead with their helmets purposely. I mean, things happen. But you've got to be ready for anything that does happen. I just happened to be ready."


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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com


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