How Will NFL Rule on Eagles’ Dirty Hits?
We’ve spoken about the outrageous helmet-to-helmet hit on Thursday by the Philadelphia Eagles’ Bryce Treggs on Damarious Randall.
Let’s now address a second hit, on Green Bay Packers receiver Malachi Dupre by Eagles rookie safety Tre Sullivan. It was a blind-side hit, preceded by about an eight-yard straight-line charge, with Sullivan’s helmet smashing into the side of Dupre’s helmet.
The brutal hit by Sullivan resulted in Packers rookie receiver Malachi Dupre being carted off the field and being taken to the hospital. It can be argued that this time around the violent contact was not as clearly made to the helmet area, and nor was it a blind-side hit. Doesn’t matter – it was still a flagrant violation of the rules.
Sullivan’s high hit immediately separated Dupre from the ball and put him flat on his back. It was reminiscent of a number of hits to the head or neck area that have ended the careers of NFL receivers.
Dupre was carried off on a stretcher with paramedics immobilizing his head and neck.
It might be that Randall and Dupre have escaped severe injuries, though any concussive-type injury makes one more susceptible to increasingly more serious injuries in the future.
The Packers, to coach Mike McCarthy’s credit, have asked the NFL to review both hits, so a response should be coming soon.
Helmet-to-Helmet Hit Rules
The trouble with the league’s helmet-to-helmet hit rule is that in about half of these situations it’s nearly impossible to tell – in real-time at least – precisely where the defender’s helmet hit the offensive player. From a referee’s standpoint, it’s an unworkable rule if it takes several slow-motion replays from different camera angles to make a determination, as the referees must make the call instantaneously.
For what it’s worth, my real-time reaction was that it was not a helmet-to-helmet hit, but I changed my mind when the replays showed Sullivan rammed his helmet into the collarbone and the underneath area of Dupre’s facemask, the latter of which forced Dupre’s head to spring backwards. Since the facemask is deemed to be part of the helmet, this was a helmet-to-helmet violation.
The league should make that determination, and hand down a heavy penalty. But there’s an easier way to rule that Sullivan violated the rules and should be penalized.
Decades ago, before legal minds started tinkering with the rules, we called what Sullivan did “spearing.” Well, spearing is still against the rules, and it is a much easier rule to apply to Sullivan’s misdeed than trying to apply the helmet-to-helmet rule – both for the referees, and for the league upon its review.
Instead of being titled spearing, the rule is titled “Unnecessary Roughness,” which goes like this:
“It is a foul if any player uses his helmet or facemask to butt, spear, or ram an opponent violently or unnecessarily. Note: this is a general and highly discretionary rule that is applicable to all players and all situations.”
Under this broad and simple rule, it should have been immediately apparent that Sullivan speared Dupre with his helmet. The rule covers butting, spearing, and ramming, any of which apply here. Also, under this wording one need not strain to decide exactly where the hit on Dupre occurred: to his shoulder, his neck area, his facemask, his helmet – or for that matter, anywhere on his body. Any forceful contact caused by a player intentionally leading with his helmet is an unnecessary roughness violation and calls for a penalty.
The discretion part of the rule can come in to assess how high up the hit was, how forceful it was, whether it was a blind-side hit, and other such details. The referees should have had no trouble at all throwing the flag, and I believe they then should have also ruled it a flagrant foul – causing Sullivan to be ejected then and there.
Now it’s up to the league to do its review. The league should add a suspension of one or more games for Sullivan’s hit – and it should do the same for Treggs’ hit on Randall.
And while we’re on the subject, there was a third dirty play in the game, again by the Eagles’ Tre Sullivan, who delivered a late hit on a defenseless Max McCaffrey. Sullivan took two full strides after watching the ball sail past the Packers receiver before delivering a shoulder-to-shoulder hit. This was not as flagrant a hit, but it was still an obvious penalty, and could have easily resulted in an injury. Given that these games don’t count in the standings, referees should be all the more inclined to not tolerate cheap shots during preseason games.
The NFL’s responses to the Eagles’ two acts of mayhem will tell us whether the league truly gives a damn about preventing career-threatening injuries.