Dan Campbell defends Lions DB after Rams called him ‘dirty player’

Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell defends Lions safety Kerby Joseph after one of his tackles resulted in devasting injuries for Los Angeles Rams tight end Tyler Higbee.

Minnesota Vikings v Detroit Lions
Minnesota Vikings v Detroit Lions / Mike Mulholland/GettyImages

At his first press conference as head coach of the Detroit Lions, Dan Campbell's infamous statement about "biting kneecaps" indicated the ferocity with which he would coach, which reverberated throughout the NFL landscape. At the time, Campbell's comments were mocked, but the Detroit head coach hoped to turn the downtrodden Lions into a competitive franchise. This season, he did: the team won their first divisional title in 30 years, and they just won their first playoff game since 1992 in a narrow 24-23 victory against the Los Angeles Rams.

Unfortunately, one of Campbell's players is being criticized for taking his kneecap metaphor a little too literally. Lions safety Kerby Joseph made a low tackle on Rams tight end Tyler Higbee, which resulted in a devastating injury. Higbee tore his ACL and his MCL on the play, and his fellow teammate, Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford, did not hold back in criticizing Joseph for his playing style.

"Hey!" Stafford yelled at Joseph following the play. "That's a good hit, but you're dirty as f--- and you know it. It's been on tape. I seen it."

Joseph nodded along as Stafford spoke and appeared to defend himself on the field, but following the game, Campbell took the press conference podium and clarified the team's stance on Joseph's performance.

Lions HC Dan Campbell doubles down on Kerby Joseph tackle

"That's how we play football here," Campbell told reporters. "Just keep your head up, see what you hit. That'll always be what I tell Kerby... He's going for the thigh board and staying away from the head. That's how we play defense here. It's not dirty. We hit."

When Stafford said that Joseph's tackling style was already on tape, he was likely referring to a low hit Joseph employed against another NFL tight end: Minnesota Vikings (and former Lions) player T.J. Hockenson.

On Christmas Eve, Joseph dove at Hockenson's knees in an attempt to take him down, which ultimately ended his season: Hockenson also tore his ACL and MCL after Joseph's helmet slammed into his knee.

While the hit is technically legal, it's possible that the technique will come under greater scrutiny after the game. It's one thing if Joseph sidelines one player with these injuries, but using the same method and giving two different players ACL and MCL tears prompts consideration of how damaging this tackling approach can be.

The NFL is no stranger to altering its rules to reflect contemporary attitudes on tackling, which is why defenses have been forced to adapt their techniques over the past two decades. From redefining illegal contact to outlawing helmet-to-helmet tackles, defenders have been forced to find new approaches to take down their opponents. This has left defenders in a bind: a legal contact may cause more significant damage to the opponent than an illegal tackle. Many players have suggested that they'd prefer a hit to the head over a low hit, since low hits often result in season-ending injuries.

Even if a legal tackle is dangerous, defensive players may utilize it without intending to cause serious injury. Joseph has responded to criticisms claiming he is a dirty player, clarifying that sidelining Higbee was never his intention.

"I'm praying for bro and his family I don't have no intention to hurt no body and or haarm their career," Joseph shared on X.

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