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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.

Rob Born

Smart drafters don’t select the best available players, they fill a team’s positions of greatest need.



  1. Howard August 14, 2017

    Good article Rob. Of the two hits that resulted in concussions the Dupre hit is the harder to judge. Dupre was clearly not defenseless. To me it was clearly a helmet to head or neck area hit. Spearing would apply while launching. The thing that leads me to believe the Dupre hit should have been considered a flagrant penalty is not so much just the helmet hit to the head or neck area. It is Sullivan launched using the crown of his helmet with the main violation being Sullivan did both while never trying to use his arms to make a tackle. It was a kill shot. Look at Sullivan’s arms in the hit process. There was no attempt to tackle only to destroy.

    In the last few years I don’t know how many times I have heard if that guy had only wrapped up his arms on the receiver or ballcarrier that hit would not have been penalized. If Sullivan had tried at all to wrap up Dupre I don’t think the hit Could be considered an illegal hit.

    If the NFL doesn’t teach Sullivan that the hit is illegal it will only encourage Sullivan to be emboldened to repeat causing head and neck injuries to others and himself.

    The NFL has an emphasis this year on flagrant hits. The NFL should use this play as a teaching/ coaching tool to try to persuade a young player from doing permanent damage to others and himself.

    1. PF4L August 14, 2017

      I’ll disagree with only one item, even if Sullivan tried wrapping his arms around Dupree, it’s still a foul if everything else stays the same. That hit was violent, if you watch it in real speed or slow motion, doesn’t matter. there was serious helmet to helmet contact. At that point, does it matter where his hands are?

      1. Howard August 14, 2017

        I believe by not wrapping the arms it shows the NFL the intent was not to tackle. It was to deliver a kill shot.

      2. Howard August 14, 2017

        I wanted to add a couple more items on this. Remember in 2013 when Lacy was concussed by Meriweather. The hit on Lacy was really no different than the hit on Dupree. Lacy was a runner (not defenseless). Meriweather made a helmet to head or neck area hit, launched, and did not attempt to make a tackling motion such as wrapping up. Meriweather was fined 42K. Later in the year he was suspended for other illegal hits. The statement from the NFL on the suspension below indicates to me the act of not trying to wrap up factors in the severity of the fine or suspension. Please note the statement below is not for the Lacy hit, however it applies and was the same year. I think the suspension was for a hit on Brandon Marshall.

        “In a statement, the NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent said, “Meriweather delivered a forceful blow to the head and neck area of a defenseless receiver with no attempt to wrap up or make a conventional tackle of this player.”

        See attached video of the Lacy hit. Also no attempt to wrap up.

  2. FLY EAGLES FLY August 16, 2017

    Packers fans are babies

    1. Phil August 21, 2017

      And you are a loser. The eagles submit tape to the NFL for review all the time. A dirty hit is no good on any side.