Will NFL's hitting video scare players straight?

Posted Oct. 21, 2010 @ 6:53 p.m.
Posted By Eric Edholm

Ray Lewis is evidently the new poster boy for doing things the right way.

In the NFL's new getting-tough-on-headhunters video campaign, league football operations head Ray Anderson narrates what is and is not acceptable for big hits in light of what transpired last week. A clip of Lewis blowing up — legally, mind you — Jets TE Dustin Keller in a play from late in Week One's Ravens win is shown.

"Great player making a great play," Anderson said. "A hit on a defenseless receiver attempting a catch. Shoulder-to-chest hit that achieved the desired result. No launching, no neck or head impact. Tough, clean football. Proper technique that minimizes the risk of injury to the opponent.

"This is what we're asking."

Ever since Week Six's Human Missile Crisis in which Falcons CB Dunta Robinson, Patriots S Brandon Meriweather and Steelers LB James Harrison (twice) made vicious, stirring hits, the league has been in defense mode. The video they put together with Anderson on the mike shows what the NFL wants and expects out of its players hitting or making blocks in what he acknowledges is a "physical and tough game."

The question becomes whether coaches and players will watch this video and take it seriously. The league puts materials such as this together and sends it to the NFL teams every year, especially when there are rules changes or tweaks, or in case there is a rash of plays that need correcting, as is the case here.

Another question: Is the video even intended for players? Or is it a glorified PR campaign meant for fans and media to see just how serious the NFL takes safety? If it's truly the former (or even both, for that matter), I am completely on board. But if this is a silly dog-and-pony show, then it's fairly shameful to do.

I suspect the league will implore its teams to watch the videos, making players understand what is expected of them, and I have no doubt it is serious about handing down fines and/or suspensions to future violators. They have to; they're all in now.

But as I watched the video, I had a thought. The difference, to me, between the Lewis hit and the one of Chiefs rookie S Kendrick Lewis on Browns TE Evan Moore was somewhat negligible. On Ray Lewis' hit, Anderson says it's "shoulder to chest" against a "defenseless receiver," but when I watched Kendrick Lewis' blow, I thought to myself, "Hmm ... shoulder to (upper) chest ... defenseless receiver."

The next play shown after Ray Lewis was former Chiefs S Jarrad Page slamming Giants WR Steve Smith in a game last season. Anderson's narration: "Kansas City player lowers his target, shoulder to the chest, ball is separated ... again, an effective result accomplished within the rules."

But on both Chiefs safeties' plays, just like in the Ray Lewis hit, I saw the same thing: the defender leaving his feet to make the play. Isn't that considered launching? If not, what is?

Watch the video. There is so much gray area here. The league knows this, but it is attempting to make the distinction here in as clear a way as possible. As cool and smart an idea as this video is, I am not sure it dictates the point well enough.

My suspicion is that this kind of hit won't be a widespread issue the rest of the season, and not because the league acted on last week's perfect storm. And that's what it was — a series of coincidentally big hits all coming within a few hours of each other. I fully believe that if we had one, even two, of these whoppers in each of the first six Sundays of the season, there would be no uproar now.

Instead, we got the Big Three (or four if you count the Kevin Burnett hit on Sam Bradford, though there has been far less mention of that and no fine on that because Bradford was scrambling and, thus, was not a defenseless receiver). Three is magical enough to shock the league into action, apparently.

Instead of wondering when the axe will fall and which player will be the first to be suspended following the "escalated levels of discipline," according to Anderson, I instead wonder which defenders league-wide will be scared. Mostly rookies and career journeymen, I suppose, the kinds of players who live week to week in the NFL and have to fear getting cut every day they drive to the facility and can't afford the types of fines that Robinson (mega contract), Meriweather (first-rounder) and Harrison (also rich) can.

So who will the common, everyday players fear the most: the NFL getting into their pockets or the coaches benching — or worse, cutting — them for missing a special-teams block or tackle?

This whole thing is a slippery slope, and I hope the NFL has the best intentions with this new watchdog approach to the physical nature of the game that always has been at the fabric of football since Rutgers-Princeton in 1869.