December 09, 2011
James Harrison is never going to learn.
Late in the fourth quarter of the Pittsburgh Steelers' ugly 14-3 victory over the Cleveland Browns, the oft-fined linebacker drew a 15-yard penalty for a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit on quarterback Colt McCoy.
As the Browns quarterback ran up in the pocket, Harrison approached to prevent McCoy from running for a first down. McCoy released the ball quickly. Just as he did, Harrison launched himself at the quarterback, raising his helmet ever-so-slightly before contact. He led with the crown and never attempted to dip his neck. Harrison hit McCoy on the rise and made contact with his helmet -- a textbook illegal hit.
McCoy left the game for three plays but returned later in the drive.
We've defended players getting flagged for dirty hits on this site a number of times. Sometimes it's impossible for a defender to change his trajectory or angle to avoid hitting a player coming at him at full speed. This wasn't one of those circumstances. Harrison waited, launched and rose to make his tackle. He had plenty of time to wait, lean and dip. It would have accomplished the same thing.
Harrison has to play his position, you can't begrudge him that. The threat of his hits are what's supposed to keep quarterbacks from moving up in the pocket and getting first downs with their legs. He can't do that by using his helmet as a weapon.
Ndamukong Suh's thuggish play got him a two-game suspension. Yet the worst that could have happened to Evan Dietrich-Smith on that Thanksgiving afternoon was a few bruises on his arm. Harrison could have given Colt McCoy a severe concussion.
But he won't be suspended. He'll get a large fine, will loudly complain about it and then he'll get backed up by his coach and teammates, who will whine that refs unfairly target Steelers players. All of that is disingenuous nonsense. Harrison, his teammates and his coaches know what he is and if they don't, well, then that's even worse.
If James Harrison hasn't stopped headhunting by now, it's never going to happen. All those fines, the ones that will supposedly keep him from paying college tuition for his kids, haven't worked. So maybe the NFL should try to get its message across to Harrison more clearly. Suspend him. The league did it for an angry stomp. Shouldn't repeated illegal hits earn the same sanction?
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