Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis provided the latest example of why the NFL will take a serious look this winter at instituting a "targeting" rule, one that would force an automatic ejection for a hit above the shoulders to a defenseless player.
Davis leveled Green Bay Packers receiver Davante Adams during an interception return in the third quarter of Sunday's game, illegally making helmet-to-helmet contact from the side and inflicting a concussion. The Panthers were penalized 15 yards, but Davis was allowed to continue playing. (He will face discipline, and possibly a future suspension from the NFL.) If this season has shown us anything, it's that the league's current rules aren't curbing dangerous hits to the head as well as they should.
NFL officials have the right to eject players for such hits but are clearly reluctant to. None of the 15 ejections in the NFL this season have been for on-field incidents. When he acknowledged the possibility of a targeting rule earlier this month, NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent noted it can serve as a "deterrent." It would also lift the responsibility of ejections from officials and make them automatic every time they called a penalty that fell under the rule.
Would targeting actually deter helmet-to-helmet shots on defenseless players? As we noted recently, results from the college targeting rule are mixed at best. But if you operate under the assumption that the NFL will follow every avenue to minimize hits to the head, whether its intent is genuine or for public relations, you can expect a serious targeting discussion this offseason. Davis' hit on Adams and the minimal immediate consequences he faced for it are the latest reasons why.