Defensive players frustrated regarding NFL's disciplinary system

Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed breaks up a pass in the end zone intended for New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman in the first half of the Ravens' Sept. 23 win over the Patriots in Baltimore.
Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed breaks up a pass in the end zone intended for New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman in the first half of the Ravens' Sept. 23 win over the Patriots in Baltimore. (DYLAN SLAGLE/STAFF PHOTO , Carroll County Times)

OWINGS MILLS - Ed Reed zeroed in on Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, lowering his shoulder to deliver a crushing blow to Sanders' upper body just as the wide receiver began to turn upfield after hauling in a deep pass across the middle. In the process, Reed's helmet collided with Sanders' as the Pittsburgh player had ducked his head to absorb the contact.

Reed was flagged for unnecessary roughness on the play. A day later, despite the contact to Sanders' helmet appearing to be inadvertent, Reed was suspended for one game without pay by the NFL as a result of it being his third violation of the league's safety rules that prohibit hits to the head and neck area of defenseless players.

The suspension was eventually lifted and reduced to a $50,000 fine, but the frustration regarding the NFL's handling of the situation remained for current and former members of the Ravens' defense, a continuation of the growing disgust for players around the league in regards to the way the NFL has gone about disciplining players for blows to the head.

"I think it's a little overboard," stated former Raven and current San Diego Chargers outside linebacker Jarret Johnson.

He added: "I guess they are just trying to be black and white and say, 'If you hit a guy in the head then there needs to be a penalty.' If you look at Ed's tackle, it was a good tackle. This is a fast-paced game, and if you make a good form-tackle, sometimes heads are going to hit."

Johnson said "it was totally 'B.S.' they were going to suspend [Reed] without pay."

"I think they need to look at penalties on an individual basis, not just decide, 'Did he hit him in the head? Well, he needs to be fined.'" Johnson added. "I think it needs to be the intent to hurt, or how malicious the hit is."

To Baltimore safety James Ihedigbo, far too many players are being flagged and fined for what he described as "non-malicious" and "unintentional" contact to an opposing player's helmet, using Reed's hit on Sanders as an example.

"We understand that this is a violent sport we play in and that injuries happen," Ihedigbo said. "There's a 100 percent injury rate. There's no way the NFL is going to take injuries out of the game. They happen.

"I understand we're trying to teach a different way of tackling, which is fine, but you have to understand that plays [like Reed's] are going to happen."

Ihedigbo went on to say the excessive amount of penalties and subsequent fines - for fouls even aside from just shots to the head - are "taking away from the game" that he grew up watching, adding that it's forcing defensive players to change the way they play.

To Ihedigbo, Bernard Pollard's missed tackle on quarterback Byron Leftwich's 31-yard touchdown run Sunday night serves as a prime example of that.

On the Steelers' third play from scrimmage, Leftwich scrambled to his right to elude Baltimore's pass rush, in the process finding room to run along the right sideline. He ran for 10 yards before slowing down and making a move toward the sideline once two Ravens defenders began to close in on him, looking like he was going to duck out of bounds. But Leftwich didn't step out, instead cutting back, easily running through a sluggish attempt at a tackle from a surprised Pollard and coasting the rest of the way for a touchdown. Once Leftwich made his move toward the sideline, Pollard had geared down, having anticipated Leftwich stepping out of bounds and wanting to avoid a hit that could warrant a personal foul and potential fine.

"We've only got a split-second as defensive players to make a tackle," said a frustrated Pollard.

In reference to the penalties and fines for hits to the head, Pollard said: "They have to switch up some kind of rule."

"They have to do something," he said. "They have to define it because there's no clear-cut way. ... I'm going to hit guys, and I'm going to do it the safe way. We have to abide by the rules. But when it's all said and done, when we're reacting and the offensive player's reacting to us by putting his head down, you can not sit here and fine us for that."

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