This is an illegal helmet-to-helmet hit. The NFL is cracking down on illegal hits only.
This is a legal hit. If the defenders helmet in this play collides with the ball carrier's helmet, he will not be flagged. The NFL is not trying to take away helmet-to-helmet hits, only those type of hits against defenseless receivers and quarterbacks. Photos by Jeff Lewis
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NFL officials, players, and fans are all making too much of an issue over tackling
By Jason Lewis
Sentinel Sports Editor
Overreactions are happening on all ends of the NFL to last Sunday’s helmet-to-helmet hits. There is no need or desire for the NFL to fundamentally change the way defenders make tackles, and defensive players and fans do not have to worry about the NFL becoming a flag football league.
The NFL went into a frenzy after four helmet-to-helmet hits caught the nation’s attention. The league added fuel to the fire by saying that defenders will now be subject to suspension for those devastating hits, which prompted players and fans to claim that league officials were trying to take the hard hits out of the game.
Everybody needs to calm down.
The NFL did not need to overact to four tackles out of thousands from Sunday. Actually, only three of those tackles were illegal, and only two of them would be considered dirty hits.
Pittsburgh Steelers James Harrison’s helmet-to-helmet hit on Cleveland Browns Joshua Cribbs was perfectly legal, and the league did not fine Harrison for that. Cribbs was classified as a runner on that play, so a helmet-to-helmet hit was legal.
There is no need to worry that the league will change the way that defenders tackle. If a running back is coming up the A gap, the middle linebacker can smash his helmet right into running back’s helmet. If the play is a sweep and the outside linebacker is containing, he can use his helmet to make the tackle.
Harrison has no reason to threaten to retire over the way he hits. Well, as long as he is not trying to take receiver’s heads off, like he did in that very same game against the Browns. There is no place in football for the hit that Harrison put on wide receiver Mohamad Massaquoi.
Massaquoi was considered a defenseless player when Harrison used a helmet-to-helmet hit on him. A defenseless receiver is a player in the process of catching the ball, and he is in a position where he cannot protect himself. He cannot protect himself because he is watching the ball. He cannot see the defender coming. It is perfectly legal to hit that player, and hit him hard, just not helmet-to-helmet.
On the play in question, Harrison pretty much rammed his helmet into Massaquoi’s helmet as Massaquoi was trying to catch the ball. A defender simply cannot, and should not be able to do that. That is not an attack on the way defenders tackle. Just don’t hit the guy in the helmet with your helmet in those circumstances. What is so hard about that?
The same is true for New England Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather’s helmet-to-helmet hit on Baltimore Ravens tight end Todd Heap.
Heap jumped up to catch a pass and Meriweather jumped up and head butted Heap in the head, mid air. There was no play on the ball by Meriweather. He did not try to hit Heap in the body. He was head hunting on that play. Meriweather should feel embarrassed for that play. There was nothing legal about that hit.
The NFL is not making new rules, like defensive players and fans are thinking. They are simply reinforcing the existing rules. They are saying that if players continue to break the rules, the punishment will be harsher.
One problem with the helmet-to-helmet rule is that it does not take intent into play. Harrison and Meriweather intended to go upside the defenseless receiver’s head. Looking at the replays it was pretty clear what they were doing. However, when Atlanta Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson hit Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson, it did not appear that Robinson’s intent was to go helmet-to-helmet against Jackson.
Football is a fast game with players moving all over the place, in all kind of different positions. It is nearly impossible for the helmets not to collide.
When Robinson went to engage Jackson, who was considered a defenseless receiver at the time, led with his shoulder into Jackson’s chest. That is a textbook hit. There is nothing dirty about that. But after the initial contact, Robinson’s helmet struck Jackson’s helmet. By rule that is a penalty. Was it a dirty play? No. It should not be classified in the same manner as the Harrison or Meriweather hit.
In football, at times the helmets just collide, and the NFL should not try to legislate that out of the game. Marcus Wiley, a retired defensive end and current ESPN analyst, said that he once was fined for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. Players cannot hit quarterbacks in the helmet, unless the quarterback becomes a runner.
Wiley said that he had a clear run to Manning, aimed for a spot on Manning’s chest, hit his mark, but Manning ducked his head at the last second as he braced for the hit. By ducking his head, Manning’s helmet hit Wiley’s helmet, and Wiley was flagged and fined for the hit.
The NFL needs to crack down on the illegal hits without condemning the legal hits, but they also need to take intent into account.
Defensive players do not need to worry about changing the way that they tackle. Simply do not hit a defenseless receiver in the helmet with your helmet. And fans do not need to worry about big hits being taken out of the game. Most big hits are perfectly legal and will always be a part of the NFL.