Aug 17, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Miami Dolphins tight end Dustin Keller (81) lays injured on the field during the first half against the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Hit ‘em high or hit ‘em low? What are NFL defensive players to do?


In response to two direct hits to players’ knees in the preseason the NFL is doing what we all love and looking for evidence to institute possible rule changes, fines, and/or penalties to low hits this season. The league’s chief of football operations, Ray Anderson, released a statement to The Associated Press on Tuesday that they will investigate to see if the hits to the knees are “becoming a problem”. Now that the defensive players are already on warning about the repercussions stemming from hits to the head, what’s left for them to do if the league takes low hits out of their options as well?

Hope you’re not tired of the term “defenseless player” yet. Already, direct hits to the head and neck of these players dubbed “defenseless” are outlawed. Sometimes there will be a flag, but always there will be a fine and a letter from the league office the following week. Now that two players have gone down in the preseason for hits to their knees and a bunch of other offensive players are complaining about it, it’s time to outlaw hits to the knees as well, apparently.  Two players go down in the preseason and we decide to potentially change the rules? Makes sense.

The low hit on Miami Dolphins TE Dustin Keller that was delivered by Houston Texans rookie safety D.J. Swearinger caused a lot of outrage, particularly because Swearinger admitted that he had aimed for Keller’s lower body in order to avoid a find from the league for hitting the head or neck. On the hit, Keller tore basically everything in his knee ending in “CL” and is out for the season. First, Dolphins WR Brian Hartline called Keller’s explanation “crap” and then Atlanta Falcons TE Tony Gonzalez went off in Swearinger’s direction on the basis that it’s unacceptable for Swearinger to say he had no choice but to go low on Keller.

”You’re talking about a career-ending injury. It should be a fineable offense, just like going for the head is. I keep seeing the debate (on TV) and all these people saying ‘They’re forcing defenders to go low’ No they’re not. That play was ridiculous.” –Tony Gonzalez

Minnesota Vikings players are equally upset at San Francisco O-Lineman Joe Looney for his hit on Vikings DT Kevin Williams.  Looney lunched at an unsuspecting Williams during a play where Williams was left with a hyperextended knee.  Williams is expected to return for the regular season so his situation isn’t as dire as Keller’s. Nevertheless, his teammates are upset that Looney’s hit was ruled legal and not subject to any punishment. The Vikings are under the impression that Looney intentionally went low on Williams and the play was dirty. Their argument is that Williams should be considered a “defenseless player” because he wasn’t expecting the block. The Vikings teammates aren’t considering in the least bit that Looney, attempting to make the 49ers roster as a backup lineman, was just trying to finish his block and not intentionally trying to go at the knees of Williams.

“It was definitely dirty. I feel like there’s no room in the game for that kind of play. It’s not my decision what happens, how he gets reprimanded for that, but it was definitely dirty. Not good.” –Desmond Bishop

While I agree that if the league is going to punish hits to “defenseless players” that should include the battles that go on in the trenches between the linemen, where most of the violence in the NFL regularly occurs. But it all goes back to how do you make a game that is inherently violent safer by changing the rules constantly? The NFL defensive player has only a few seconds to decide in which direction they’re going to go when going for a hit. They are supposed to hit them still, I think. All the rules concerning the crown of the helmet and avoiding the head and neck are meant to protect players but how much protection can you give everyone before you irrevocably change the style of the game?

Outspoken Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark has voiced his frustration concerning the news that soon lower hits could be as finable as hits to the head. Clark was quoted as saying,

“If they decide to change a rule, they might as well put flags (on players) and start playing flag football. Because then you give a guy like myself, who’s 200 pounds, a 2-foot area to stop a guy who’s 240 pounds, 250 running at full speed, and that’s going to be kind of hard to do.” –Ryan Clark

Clark also noted that when the league first went after the hits to the head on players, he predicted that would increase the lower hits on players and subsequently cause a rise in knee injuries. Ray Anderson of the NFL’s operations said that the league hadn’t fully considered that players might lower their targets once the head and neck region were off-limits. Now they will.

I’ll never understand why the league will vote to alter rules based on less than a handful of injury-causing plays. Football is a violent sport and there isn’t a whole lot that can be done to make it less violent aside from taking the contact completely out of the game. While the defensive players aren’t completely out of options; they can always aim for the middle of the player and the league wouldn’t be able to start fining players over lower body hits until next season anyway. There’s not a whole lot of options they have except from altering their play and evolving to fit the ever-changing NFL.

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Tags: Atlanta Falcons D.J. Swearinger Dustin Keller Houston Texans Joe Looney Kevin Williams Miami Dolphins Minnesota Vikings NFL Competition Committee Pittsburgh Steelers Ryan Clark San Francisco 49ers Tony Gonzalez

  • richard

    Those cut blocks should be illegal all together, regardless of whether or not it is in the tackle box. The low tackles are going to be a lot harder to deal with, there are so many more variables. Throwing a shoulder into someones knee ,like what happened to Keller should be illegal. Perhaps had Swearinger wrapped him up with his arms as well ,Keller might still be able to play this year. Proper tackling techniques will help cut down on injuries, unfortunately it can not stop them all together. Maybe the league should look at the players first, and stop making rules way to hastily.

  • Pygskyn

    What should they do? How about they think way back to their first day of Pop Warner Football or football camp when they were taught how to tackle, lower the shoulder, put it into the ballcarriers waist, wrap up, and take him down. When your lined up and have a free shot on a defenseless receiver, there is no excuse for poor tackling mechanics.