Players such as Tennessee Titans safety Cortland Finnegan, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison and Cleveland Browns safety T.J. Ward have dominated NFL headlines in 2010, but it hasn't been for their incredible talents.
League commissioner Roger Goodell is on a crusade to rid the NFL of "foul play" from the league's hardest hitting players, and this has some of the game's most talented players being vilified for the very type of play that once made them celebrated.
The NFL is constantly evolving. The players are stronger and faster than they've ever been, the talent pool is wider than was ever imagined, and as a result, the hits just keep on coming—and getting harder. Week 6 of this young 2010 season seemed to be even more violent than usual, and that has led the league's rules to evolve to keep up with the players.
Topping all of the intriguing story lines that Week 6 brought us—the Minnesota Vikings playoff hopes remain alive by killing the Cowboys' run at glory, Philadelphia Eagles QB Kevin Kolb keeping quarterback controversy alive in the city of brotherly love, the Houston Texans getting back on track by beating the AFC West leading Kansas City Chiefs—is the recent rash of bewildering, bone-crushing hits that have rocked the NFL to it's very foundation.
The list of players who were knocked out of games in Week 6 is a pretty long one.
- Browns WRs Josh Cribbs and Mohammed Massaquoi were both knocked out of their game against the Steelers by James Harrison.
- Colts RB Joseph Addai was knocked out of their contest against the Redskins at the end of a run up the middle.
- New England Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather hit Baltimore Ravens TE Todd Heap in the head after a pass play that was obviously over, leaving Heap in a heap on the field.
- The hardest hit of all was actually a clean hit delivered to Philadelphia Eagles WR DeSean Jackson by Atlanta Falcons CB Dunta Robinson.
All of the players that took the hits left their games with concussions with the exception of Heap, and Dunta Robinson also was apparently concussed by making the hit on Jackson.
On Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2010, the NFL is going to set into motion a chain of events that will forever change NFL football as we know it. Roger Goodell and his staff has come up with a very dangerous, and possibly league-damning solution, to deter the headhunting player's lust for blood.
Some time today, the league will announce the implementation of a new policy banning "devastating hits and head shots" by giving players immediate suspensions for any hit deemed to fall into this category. This sounds good in theory, but let's explore the possible ramifications of such a ruling.
In 2007, the league began to focus on stopping hits on defenseless receivers and hits that are made by a player leading with his helmet. While these hits are dangerous and potentially injury-causing, they are sometimes unavoidable if players are to play hard and never let up.
This policy laid the ground work for the new 'punishment era' that will debut in Week 7. Defenders have their hands tied any time a receiver goes into the air to make a catch. With the language of the rule prohibiting defenders from "launching themselves" at any player who leaves the ground, it takes away the opportunity for the defender to have a chance to cause an incompletion by dislodging the ball from receivers.
This basically has made it so that any player who leaves the ground is assured a reception or a 15-yard penalty and a first down for the receiver's team if the pass is properly defended. This was made evident in the Week 6 game between the Jets and the Broncos, and it almost cost the Jets a victory.
On a long pass down the sideline from Broncos QB Kyle Orton to WR Brandon Lloyd, Jets DB Jim Leonhard hit Lloyd in the chest in an attempt to force Lloyd out of bounds while he was coming down in-bounds with the ball.
The pass was caught at the Jets 29-yard line, and Leonhard was flagged for a personal foul despite no helmet to helmet contact being made, bringing the Broncos inside the Jets' 15-yard line. With this new rule, Leonhard could face a possible suspension for a routine play such as this.
This type of overreaction from the referees has become commonplace in the NFL. Now that suspensions have been added to the mix, the ramifications of over-policing NFL players will cost teams more than just 15 yards and the possibility of one loss.
Any time a player goes down hard, the possibility of suspension will hang over the defending player's head for the remainder of the contest, leading said defender to play more tentatively and take their foot off of the gas, so to speak.
Offensive players are ridiculed for taking plays off, and now it appears that defenders are going to be required to do just that. Defenders are going to have to pull up on tackles that could possibly be deemed as "devastating." This leads me to my next point of contention with the new rules.
In a league that has already emphasized offense, the defense will take another huge hit today. By taking away the whole concept that defense was founded on—full speed, never stopping, hitting hard—how exactly are defenders supposed to defend. There is no such thing as laying up in the NFL. The defender's "strike zone" is becoming smaller than that of a pitcher's in baseball.
Players are already encouraged to slow down when hawking down receivers and quarterbacks, but now they will be required to do so. It sets a terrible precedent for the future of the league.
From Pee-Wee to the pros, players are taught to play hard and give it all that they have. How can they then be expected to ease off the throttle once they make it to the biggest football stage in the world?
I completely agree with Goodell in that intentional headhunting cannot be tolerated, and that violence for the sake of violence is unacceptable. However, football is a violent game. Trying to remove all violence from the sport is not only counterproductive, but it also compromises the integrity of the game itself.
This new rule is going to change the way that players, who have no ill will toward their opponents, both prepare for and play the game. If they can't hit the players who are trying to catch the ball, how can they be expected to properly defend against the pass? If they can't hit high or low, then just how are they expected to tackle players who aren't running upright?
Again, I do agree with the intent of the rule, but the fair and impartial enforcement of said rule is going to be next to impossible. Suspensions should be enforced for excessively and unnecessarily violent hits, but with the definition of these hits becoming more and more broad, suspensions could possibly take the place of and/or accompany all fines going forward.
Goodell has made his reputation as commissioner by being a no-nonsense, zero tolerance-type of ruler with an iron fist. He has taken every cause that he has emphasized to the extreme. It would be foolish to think that this time it will be any different.
While I applaud the commissioner for his stance against law-breaking violations of the league's substance abuse policy, and lax practices regarding the blind eye turned to concussions in the past, he is walking a fine line in this case between protecting players and handcuffing them.
I hope to see an NFL where glorified renegade mercenaries are weeded out while the integrity of the game remains intact, but I'm just not sure that making a blanket policy is the proper means to achieving those ends. Only time will tell, and I will definitely follow this story very closely, starting in Week 7. However, I am very skeptical of the results that will be yielded.
So good luck, defenders of the NFL. Judging from the implications of this new policy, you're going to need it.