When It Comes to Football Injuries is it Heads vs. Knees?
The longer this conversation about what is and isn’t an illegal hit goes on, the more I’m seeing players and bloggers set up a choice–and I’m wondering if it’s a false one. That choice being that if players are not able to hit high, or are afraid of hitting high, they will automatically go as low as they can. Consequently, rather than a bunch of head injuries we’ll have a bunch of shattered knees (read: careers) to contend with.
Matt Hudson writes:
Think about the DeSean Jackson – Dunta Robinson hit if the new rule had already been implemented. Robinson, knowing that a suspension or fine could happen if he hits anywhere near the top of the diminutive Jackson, goes for his knees. Suppose that conservatively, both players are running at 20 miles an hour. A helmet to the knee at a combined 40 miles an hour? Congratulations, NFL – you’ve avoided a concussion. And blown out a knee in the process.
The hit to Desean Jackson was ugly by all accounts; but set up this way the hit sounds preferable to the alternative.
On twitter, Reggie Bush stated that as an offensive player he opposes the rules because he’d rather be hit up high than below the knees.
But are these two options what it really comes to? I’m not so sure.
When New England QB Tom Brady tore his left ACL and left MCL in the home opener of the Patriots 2008 season it was a season-ending injury and the hitter, Bernard Pollard, wasn’t penalized because under the interpretation of the rules at the time he’d done nothing wrong.
Subsequently, the rule known as the “Brady Rule” was implemented. That rule protects the QB’s knees by not allowing a defender on the ground who hasn’t been blocked or somehow fouled into the QB from attacking the quarterback’s lower legs–whether by lunging or diving this way of sacking the QB isn’t allowed. The rule was met with many mumbles and grumbles. Partly, because people believe QBs, Brady in particular, have become too valued at too glamourous a position but also because pass rushers don’t want to have to give up on a play just because they’ve been blocked to the ground. *insert baby crying*
I’m still hearing a lot of people complain about QBs being protected–I fall on the other side of that argument. Nevertheless, at the time there seemed to be a valid fear that defenses would be hindered by yet another impediment to stopping a team’s ability to advance the ball at the source.
Two years later, those complaints seem out of place. Off the top of my head, I can think of 3 QBs that are currently out with injuries that resulted from LEGAL sacks. Defenses are getting stronger and faster by the month. If you think touchdowns are hard to come by now in the NFL, imagine a world where starting QBs are consistently out.
No thank you!
To bring this to the present day, I wonder if this is not another one of those things where some of us look back on the enforcement of rules that are a bit grey, which the illegal hit rules certainly are, and see it as simply catching up to reality.
Obviously, we can’t look at it that way until we get some clarification on what a devastating hit actually is. Pro Football Talk flipped through the 20 lb all powerful NFL rule book to take a closer look at the rule and it’s very very subjective both in how the NFL has previously applied its “enforcement” and how it intends to handle it going forward. Sidebar: That post ended up scaring me more than clarifying anything.
But certainly if there appears to be a bunch of DBs going for the knees of receivers we’ll see a controversy complete with fines and suspensions not unlike the one we’re observing now [insert rule change here]. I think the players know that and that accounts for some of their frustration. The game is headed toward something that is very unfamiliar for them. That’s a scary thought given most football players make their trek towards the pros at least by the age of 10.
I believe players are genuinely and justifiably concerned about how to tackle and hit going forward. They also appear to be worried that the NFL’s rule changes could negatively impact league revenue which also hurts their pockets. This is important as defensive players at crucial positions can tend to be undervalued and underpaid depending on the team. I’m sensitive to all that, I swear I am. And I even understand why Pittsburgh Steeler James Harrison threw a major MANTRUM (man + tantrum) after being fined last week.
But I still worry that the players, in their frustration over the enforcement of murky rules, are providing us a false choice to bolster their case. I don’t want to run with it before considering it further. And I would be remiss if I didn’t say that I think there are many cases in which players are neglecting pursuing a legitimate tackle b/c a sloppier and more fun (and more highlight reel worthy) hit is available.