Last Sunday proved to be a hard-hitting week. Yesterday the NFL released an official statement regarding fines they placed on three NFL players for ‘flagrant violations of player safety rules’. One of those players was James Harrison, linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers. New England’s Brandon Meriweather and Atlanta’s Dunta Robinson were also fined. The sum against Harrison was $75,000, while Meriweather and Robinson were fined $50,000 each.
Ray Anderson, NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations, informed the players in a letter to each of them saying, “Future offenses will result in an escalation of fines up to and including suspension.”
During the second quarter in Pittsburgh’s game against the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field, Harrison’s defensive hits on Joshua Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi were questioned by the league. Tuesday, Coach Mike Tomlin, said that the NFL had announced that Harrison’s hit on Cribbs was legal, but that the one on Massaquoi was under review. After Sunday’s game, Coach Tomlin said that he believed them to be “legal hits” and not fineable. He felt the same way on Tuesday. According to Tomlin, the hit on Cribbs’ should have been ruled legal because “Cribbs was the wildcat quarterback. He was the runner. Those guys are not protected. That’s why a few weeks ago when you guys were asking me why Dennis Dixon (a Steelers quarterback) doesn’t run – the NFL is dangerous for non-running backs running in close quarters.”
Tomlin said that the Steelers defense executed the way they were instructed to. But Tomlin also said he is in favor of strict enforcement by the league when it determines a hit to be illegal. “If you look at Harrison’s hit on Cribbs, the first man to make contact with him was a hit-and-wrap tackler, LaMarr Woodley. We teach the second man in to dislodge the ball on contact, because that’s what we desire. We want possession of the football. They both did exactly what we coach and what we ask them to. The first man to confront Joshua Cribbs was LaMarr Woodley.”
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THE NFL’s POSITION
Harrison was said to have unnecessarily struck a defenseless receiver in the head and neck area. Such an action violates Rule 12, Section 2, Article 8 (g) of the NFL Offical Playing Rules. This rule states that it is considered unneccessary roughness if the initial force of contact is made by a defender’s helmet, forearm, or shoulder to the head or neck of a defenseless receiver who is catching or attemption to catch. The same rule states that if a receiver has completed a catch and has not had time to protect himself, a defensive player is prohibited from launching (springing forward and upward) into the receiver in w away that causes the defensive player’s helmet, facemask, shoulder, or forearm to forcibly strike the receiver’s head or neck area – even if the initial contact of the defender’s helmet, facemask, shoulder, or forearm is lower than the receiver’s neck.
A defenseless player is defined as “(a) a player in the act of or just after throwing a pass; (b) a receiver catching or attempting to catch a pass; (c) a runner already in the grasp of a tackler and whose forward progress has been stopped; (d) a kickoff or punt returner attempting to field a kick in the air; and (e) a player on the ground at the end of a play.”
During a Tuesday morning radio appearance, Anderson said, “If there are flagrant and egregious violations of our current rules, we will be enforcing, effective immediately, discipline at a higher level. We need to get our players firmly in line with the current rules, and that’s what our intentions are, effective immediately.” Anderson said that Harrison is a repeat offender and was fined $5000 for unnecessary roughness (roughing the passer) in Pittsburgh’s September 19 game against Tennessee.
In a post-game comment, Harrison reportedly said, “I don’t want to see anyone injured, but I am not opposed to hurting anyone. There’s a big difference between being hurt and being injured. You get hurt, you shake it off and come back the next series or the next game. I try to hurt people.”
Tomlin responded to questions Tuesday about Harrison’s comment by saying, “I didn’t see those comments, but I know James. He says a lot of things that he doesn’t necessarily mean. He is a tough-talker, like a lot of guys who play the game at this level. If you want to get to know James, catch him on a Tuesday when he is walking through the building with his son. He’s a big softy.”
Massaquoi’s hands were on the ball that Browns quarterback Colt McCoy threw and tried to turn upfield. It was then that he was hit by Harrison moving in. Massaquoi can be seen lowering his shoulder pads in anticipation of the tackle. The question that comes into play is whether Massaquoi had actually secured the catch for a completion before he was hit. In the replay, it appears that Massaquoi did not have control of the ball. According to the way the rule is written, Massaquoi was a defenseless player, but it could be argued that his attempt to brace for impact is what actually caused his helmet and Harrison’s helmet to make contact. The rule would make it a requirement for defensive players to allow receivers to make a completion before being hit. However, the point of hitting a receiver in the middle of a catch is to cause the ball to either be fumbled or fall incomplete. Could Harrison have known that Massaquoi would lower his shoulders prior to the tackle? Did Harrison actually hit Massaquoi with his helmet first or with his arms to Massaquoi’s chest first? If his arms hit Massaquoi’s chest first, then it would technically make Massaquoi in-elligible as a defenseless player.
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BROWNS VS. STEELERS HIGHLIGHT REEL
COACH MIKE TOMLIN’S POST-GAME CONFERENCE
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