NFL should use replay to confirm illegal helmet hits

Ravens safety Bernard Pollard will likely get a fine this week for his hit on Reggie Wayne, but he makes a good point about adding further review to the enforcement of personal fouls

In the next few days, the NFL will announce any disciplinary action relating to last weekend's first playoff round, which means that there will likely be another big wire transfer headed from Baltimore to the league's central office in New York.

If so, this week's contribution to the NFL charities will come from veteran safety Bernard Pollard, who was flagged during Sunday's victory over the Indianapolis Colts for a nasty hit on receiver Reggie Wayne.

Pollard said Tuesday that he hasn't heard anything from the league yet, but he isn't worried about the fine. It won't be the first and it probably won't be the last. Between Pollard and Ed Reed, it would be the sixth time this season that a Ravens safety has been fined for unnecessary roughness as part of the recent effort by the NFL to reduce head injuries.

Maybe you didn't know they kept track of this kind of thing, but the Ravens already are the most heavily fined team in the NFL this year, and they were assessed more 15-yard penalties (of all kinds) during the regular season than any team since 2000.

Pollard probably isn't going to get much sympathy, and he isn't asking for any. He does, however, think that the NFL needs to make helmet hits reviewable so that the defense only gets penalized when the hits are clearly illegal.

"They [replay] touchdowns, fumbles, turnovers, all this other stuff,'' Pollard said. "They need to have somebody up there to say, 'No, the hit was legal, the guy tried to dodge him, but the [receiver] ducked his head.' We make a lot of money. I'm talking about the NFL. Why can't we can't do that?"

Sounds pretty reasonable when you consider the impact that a poorly decided 15-yard penalty can have on a game — and the impact a single game can have on the fortunes of a team in a league that employs tiebreakers at the end of almost every season.

The game moves so fast that it has been fairly common this season to see an apparent helmet hit become a legal shoulder tackle when viewed in slow motion — or an offensive player lowering his head at the last instant to the same plane as the defender's and making helmet contact unavoidable. The league does review those plays during the week and only assesses fines when the violation is confirmed, but that doesn't help the team that gave up a touchdown after a drive was extended by a bad call that could have been rectified fairly easily without unnecessary delay.

The NFL already has supervisors looking down from the press box to quickly confirm scoring plays. It could do the same thing — quite unobtrusively — with the one or two disputable helmet hits in each game.

Pollard isn't singing a brand new tune here. Defensive players have been complaining for years that the NFL's emphasis on safety has been too one-sided. Remember when Terrell Suggs got so frustrated a couple of years ago that he suggested the NFL just go ahead and switch to flag football?

"We want to see everybody succeed,'' Pollard said. "We want to see guys make the most money. We want to see guys embrace the stage playing in the NFL, but we can't continue to take these fines when there's this gray area in everything. We're doing everything right and the offensive players are lowering their heads to brace for the impact, but they're blaming the defense."

This probably sounds a little strange coming from a player whose nickname is "Bonecrusher," but Pollard is simply trying to walk that fine line between the old school and the NFL's new sensitive side. He is known as one of the hardest hitters in the game, and he probably contributed to the ever-growing emphasis on quarterback safety when he caused the knee injury that knocked Tom Brady out for the season in 2008. But that was no nasty helmet hit, just a freak play that caused Brady to crumple to the ground awkwardly.

Pollard recognizes the need to protect players on both sides of the ball, but he doesn't think the NFL can have it both ways.

"Everybody wants safety,'' he said. "We all want to see guys make a career out of this. Nobody wants guys to go out, but at the same time, you have to understand that we are guys who are big, strong, we lift weights. If you don't want that, get all these coaches out of here then. Take the strength coaches away. Why do we lift weights? Why are we strenghtening our necks. Why are we strengthening our biceps, out triceps, our chests? What are we doing this stuff for if we're not going to collide. So problems are going to happen."

When they do, the NFL has been quick to make players like Pollard and Reed open their wallets, which is just fine. When the officials overreact to a legal hit, however, the league needs to have a system in place make sure the injustice is reversed so the quality of the competition and the appeal of the sport does not also take a nasty hit.

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.

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