Ravens coach John Harbaugh chose his words carefully to avoid any potential fines for criticizing a controversial roughing-the-passer penalty on outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw, but his intentions and message were impossible to mistake.
Upshaw was penalized for driving his helmet into the chest of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger during the Ravens' 26-6 win last Thursday at M&T Bank Stadium, nullifying a sack. Upshaw drove Roethlisberger into the ground, but didn't hurt the quarterback or make contact with his helmet.
Harbaugh has discussed the infraction with NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino and says he wasn't sure how to instruct Upshaw to play any differently.
"It's difficult because the way the rules are written is one thing, what's possible to accomplish is another thing," Harbaugh said Monday. "There's no way to coach Courtney out of that. He's coming full-speed, he's going down into the strike zone and he's keeping his eyes up. He can't lift his head any higher than that.
"He also can't get his head off to the side because Ben's moving, and also the fact that if he gets his head off to the side, he's got a really good chance of missing the tackle or hurting himself by dropping his head. We're never going to put our player in a position to coach him to drop his head."
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Upshaw told The Baltimore Sun after the game that he wasn't initially aware of the penalty and said he's not concerned about what happened.
"The coaches told me not to worry about it," Upshaw said. "At the end of the day, you have to keep playing football. That was one call. You can't let that take over how you want to be aggressive."
Harbaugh said he has no plans to change how he coaches tackling techniques going forward in the wake of the Upshaw penalty.
"Football has always been about seeing what you hit, heads-up football, keeping your eyes up," Harbaugh said. "That's the name of the youth football organization program that we have in the NFL right now. We'll continue to coach him to do that.
"We'll try our best to keep our helmet off the body. But when you see what you hit and you've got your face and your eyes up, that's a safe technique for a player and we're going to start with safety first."