For a guy who shows up, plays hard and doesn't complain, Hines Ward(notes) sure is a controversial figure. Back in March, the NFL passed a series of new rules, and one of them was unofficially dubbed "The Hines Ward rule." Let's revisit that post from late March.
A blindside block cannot be delivered with a helmet, shoulder or forearm to an opponent's head or neck. That'll be a 15-yard penalty. I don't get the controversy at all about this one. You can still crack back on somebody, just don't lead with your head, and don't aim at another guy's head. I love the rule. Heads and necks are important. Let's keep them intact.
Somehow, the subject came up between Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writer Scott Brown and Hines Ward yesterday, and Hines is still having a bit of trouble embracing the rule.
"It's kind of funny because week in and week out, that's all we see is highlights of somebody getting blown up by a defensive player," Ward said. "In my case it's shunned or doesn't look good or makes me a dirty player. I don't do anything different than what they do to offensive players."
I like Hines, and I admire the physical approach he takes to the downfield blocking, so I hate to take issue here, but I do think he's a little off. Yes, Hines lights up defenders just as defenders try to light up Hines, but it's not quite the same. By the simple nature of their position, there are guys who are simply more vulnerable to dangerous hits. Go browse through YouTube for Hines Ward hits, and see how many of them were from a guy who was ready to protect himself.
When a receiver's made a catch and is carrying the ball, most of the time, he's in a decent position to protect himself. He can see what's coming at him, and if he needs to, he can get down, he can get to the sidelines, he can turn away from the hit. When a receiver's most vulnerable to a big shot is when he's going across the middle. Receivers know that. That's why a lot of them won't do it. Most times when a receiver is left vulnerable to a big stick, he knows it's coming, either because he's crossing the middle, or because a quarterback put him a tough position.
It's a little different for defensive players. And sure, you can say that it's a defender's job to keep his head on a swivel and look out for everyone, but that's not reality. Reality is that he's looking for and chasing the ball carrier. That's his job.
Take a look at the hit that spawned the rule; Hines Ward on Keith Rivers. It's not a dirty play (it will be in 2009, though, post-rule change), but it is a blindside hit. Rivers was not in a position to defend himself, Hines Ward knew that, and he took advantage. He hit a guy who, for whatever the reason, was not in a position to protect himself.
If we can have rules that protect defenseless receivers, why can't we have a rule that protects defenseless defenders?
No one's saying Hines Ward can't hit anymore. He can still hit Keith Rivers(notes) in that situation, he just won't be allowed to lead with his head, shoulder, or forearm, and he won't be allowed to hit Keith Rivers in the head, break his jaw, and put him out for the season. He might have to hit him in the chest, stomach, or legs. Is that really so terrible?