It was the week that put the NFL's policies on hard hits and helmet-to-helmet violence into sharper focus than ever, and Atlanta Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson was one of three players who wound up with a bull's-eye on his back. In Week 6 of the 2010 season, three sets of hits — Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison on Cleveland Browns receiver Mohamed Massaquoi, New England Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather on Baltimore Ravens tight end Todd Heap, and Robinson's hit on Philadelphia Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson — caused the NFL to get hyper-sensitive about heavy hitters on the field, start levying major fines when plays went over the edge, and put a microscopic point of emphasis on those plays. Even hits that weren't flagged on the field, as Harrison's wasn't, were going to draw fines from the league.
"(Sunday) was particularly disturbing, just the number and violence of the hits," said Ray Anderson, the NFL's executive vice president of football operations, in a USA Today interview soon after those games. "No question about it, internally, it's our state of mind to protect players."
No question about it. Now, while players like Harrison and Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh feel that they are unfairly singled out on the field and after the fact, it's also true that repeat offenders are really going to feel the burn.
Robinson, playing the Eagles on Sunday night for the first time since that Jackson hit, put together an encore against receiver Jeremy Maclin that will certainly result in a letter from the NFL and a serious reduction in pay:
Clearly, Robinson led with the crown of his helmet into Maclin's facemask, and that will get him fined — perhaps even suspended. He was fined $50,000 for the Jackson hit last season (which you can also see in the video above), though that was reduced to $25,000 after Robinson appealed. Perhaps the league decided to give him a break after it was revealed that Robinson was concussed as well. This time, Maclin left the game but returned shortly thereafter, and Robinson seemed none the worse for wear. Maclin actually had a monster night; he caught 13 passes for 171 yards and two touchdowns in a game that the Falcons eventually won, 35-31.
I get the league's emphasis on these types of hits, but I'll also say again what I've said before. If you're going to fine Robinson for putting Maclin in danger, you might want to fine Eagles quarterback Michael Vick and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg as well. Mornhinweg's the one who called the play that put Maclin in a zone pocket, where he's far more likely to get upended by a defender closing in on him, and Vick's the one who threw the ball in a way that led Maclin into the hit.
There's no question that Robinson has a responsibility to drop his shoulder on a play like that — whether you like it or not, those are the rules as they stand — but he's also bending to the instincts he's learned as a football player for the last two decades, and sometimes, these plays are too bang-bang for the defender to climb out of his own skin and do something different. I'm not excusing the helmet-to-facemask contact, but the fact that Robinson concussed himself on the last hit — and called Jackson with an apology to boot — says that maybe this isn't as simple as the league makes it out to be from a physiological standpoint.
"Fines don't deter. It is only when players are forced to sit out and it affects the team, that the message sinks in," Anderson said in that 2010 interview. "But it's not just with words, it's action. We're looking to make players more accountable. We feel an obligation to do that. A higher level of discipline is needed. If we look at plays that were previously fined, going forward that play can get you fined and suspended."
If that's still the case, the Falcons might be playing without Dunta Robinson for a while.
- Dunta Robinson