The NFL is doing everything it can to eliminate helmet-to-helmet hits, but Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. demonstrated how the league's various rule changes have created dangerous unintended consequences.
Harris was asked during a Tuesday interview on ESPN's SportsCenter (via Business Insider's Cork Gaines) how he and the rest of the Broncos defense intend to stop New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.
"You gotta hit him low, man—hit him in his knees," said the fifth-year veteran. "That's the best chance you have of hitting him. You gotta take his legs out or hold on and wait for everybody, wait for the gang to come on and gang tackle him."
On one hand, you never want to hear an NFL player talk about intentionally trying to lunge at an opposing player's knees, thus risking a potentially major injury.
The concern is particularly pressing for Gronkowski, who suffered a torn ACL and MCL in 2013. Also, when the Broncos and the Patriots met earlier this year, Denver safety Darian Stewart hit Gronkowski low, knocking him out of the game.
Gronkowski responded to Harris' comments later Tuesday on Twitter, with what could be considered questionable judgment:
Rob Gronkowski @RobGronkowski
Heard their whole team is good at giving low blows 😜🏈 https://t.co/nDOsOwkvki2016-1-19 23:35:59
Harris responded to the attention his comments received, per Michael Giardi of CSN New England:
Michael Giardi @MikeGiardi
The Chris Harris quote about going for Gronk's knee was so overblown. Harris was great on it today. @CSNNE https://t.co/vUGFU1oZU52016-1-21 22:47:15
The NFL shared a replay of the tackle that sidelined Gronkowski in the first Patriots-Broncos matchup:
Rob Gronkowski's knee was injured on this play. #NEvsDEN https://t.co/cpKJs6qGJB2015-11-30 04:40:04
Since the NFL will penalize, fine and/or suspend defenders for high tackles, players are left with little choice but to target the lower half of the body.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady admitted as much after the game in which Gronkowski was injured.
"I hate to see it, but it really is the only way defenders can hit now," Brady said, per Nick Groke of the Denver Post. "I bet if you asked the players, they would really rather go high than low. I don't think it's dirty. I just think that's how football is played now."
Football is an inherently violent game, and it's impossible to remove all of the physical danger to which players subject themselves on a weekly basis during the season.
The Broncos' strategy of going after Gronkowski isn't entirely palatable, but Denver is simply abiding by the rules of today's NFL.