Dirty hits have NFL keeping closer watch on players going too high or low

Eric Edholm
August 27, 2013

Two highly discussed hits this preseason have the NFL abuzz.

Offensive players around the league are crowing about Houston Texans rookie D.J. Swearinger's hit to the knees on Miami tight end Dustin Keller and how it's symptomatic of a greater problem league-wide.

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Defensive players are upset at Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Kevin Williams getting his legs rolled up on by San Fransisco 49ers offensive lineman Joe Looney, on a play that looked like it had malice aforethought, fearing they could be the next victims.

The NFL, always on the cutting edge, is pledging to take action if needed.

The problem is the way the rules are currently written. When asked about the hit, Swearinger said he was trying avoid going high and risking getting flagged for the league's new getting-tough-on-head-hits campaign. And there really isn't anything in the rule book about what Looney did; despite it being a de facto "dirty" play by football definitions, no penalty was assessed, and correctly so, because of NFL rules.

Ray Anderson, the league's operations head, told the Associated Press that the NFL competition committee could take action on the matter if it senses a problem and a growing trend with these hits. The committee then would raise the issue in March, at the owners' meetings, where it would go to a vote. As for this season, players might have to police themselves. Not a scary thought whatsoever.

"We are always looking at plays that may elevate themselves and we do include in that category hits on defenseless players," Anderson said. "And certainly the hits to knees of players who have not had the opportunity to protect themselves or are not looking in the direction of where the hit comes from -- we have had a couple hits whereby a player was hit below [or at] the knees."

Want to know how the players feel about this? We present to you now the words of outspoken Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark, who said Tuesday he feels as if the rules will be changed in their favor if enough offensive players whine about it.

"I'm so disgusted with the NFL right now about those situations, but if an offensive player makes enough stink about something they'll change it," Clark said. "If they decide to change this rule they might as well put flags [on players] because then you give a guy like myself, who's 200 pounds, a two-foot area to stop a guy who's 240, 250 running at full speed, and that's going to be kind of hard to do."

We already know what Tony Gonzalez, an offensive player, thinks about wayward-tackling defensive players. So it brings up a pretty good debate — and one the NFL is prepared to act on in the next, oh, six to nine months.

Do the players have a point? Should the NFL act more quickly to protect them? What can be done to fix the high and low hits in the game?

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