NFC North: Dunta Robinson

Dirty Laundry: Protection for non-QB

November, 15, 2012
I've saved this season's Dirty Laundry posts for events that genuinely fall into a gray area of officiating or spur significant confusion, and I think we have one that qualifies this week.

The second-quarter play that left Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler concussed, took $30,000 from the pocket of Houston Texans linebacker Tim Dobbins and officially never happened (because of offsetting penalties) has led to a disparate set of contradictory explanations and protests. So let's sift through the layers and explain why the penalty flag on Dobbins was justified regardless of other circumstances.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhBears QB Jay Cutler looks on after suffering a concussion against Houston on Sunday night.
First, a reminder of what happened on the play. With two minutes, 56 seconds remaining in the first half Sunday night, the Bears had a third-and-nine from the 50-yard line. Cutler scrambled from the pocket, headed upfield and threw a short pass to receiver Devin Hester as he approached the line of scrimmage. An instant later, Dobbins flattened Cutler with a hit as Hester turned the pass into a 42-yard gain.

Referee Gene Steratore's crew threw multiple flags: One against Cutler for an illegal forward pass (beyond the line of scrimmage), and the other against Dobbins for unnecessary roughness. In his announcement, Steratore said Dobbins was penalized for a "hit above the quarterback's shoulders."

That wording prompted justifiable confusion; if Cutler was in fact beyond the line, he was no longer protected by the NFL's long list of rules regarding hits on quarterbacks, otherwise known as "roughing the passer." Instead, he would be viewed as any other ball carrier. The NFL rule book states in case study 12.50 that "roughing the passer rules apply on all legal or illegal forward passes, as long as the pass is thrown from behind the line of scrimmage."

I realize it was a close call as to whether Cutler was fully past the line of scrimmage when he threw the ball, as required for that penalty to be called. For the sake of this post, however, let's assume Steratore was correct and that Cutler was merely a ball carrier and not a quarterback. Dobbins' hit would still be illegal.

Unnecessary roughness rules, applied to all positions, prohibit a player from using his helmet to forcefully hit an opponent. Here is the exact wording from Rule 12, Section 2, Article 8(g) of the rule book: "A player uses any part of his helmet (including the top/crown and forehead/'hairline' parts) or facemask to butt, spear, or ram an opponent violently or unnecessarily."

Go back and watch Dobbins' hit. The front of his helmet appears to hit Cutler's jaw and facemask. Cutler's head turns pretty decisively to the left on impact. Was Cutler turning away from the contact or did the force of Dobbins' blow cause that movement? It's difficult to tell for sure, but the play sure appears to fit the description of using "any part" of the helmet to "ram an opponent violently." (Former NFL vice president of officiating Mike Pereira, now an analyst for Fox Sports, drew the same conclusion this week).

Dobbins might not have gotten the same opportunity to make such a hit on a running back or receiver, of course. Most ball carriers would be better braced for impact than Cutler was as he focused on Hester. But if he had, based on NFL rules, the same unnecessary roughness penalty would be justified.

During a Twitter discussion Wednesday, some of you thought Dobbins' $30,000 fine suggested the NFL viewed Cutler as a passer. I'm not sure about that. There is precedent for players to face elevated fines for helmet-to-helmet hits on non-quarterbacks. Two years ago, in fact, Atlanta Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson was fined $50,000 for a hit that gave Philadelphia Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson a concussion.

Now, let's update our NFC North penalty tracker, updated through Week 10:

Video: Packers-Falcons field report

January, 15, 2011

Ed Werder previews Saturday's NFC Divisional playoff game in Atlanta
Those of you who follow Chicago Bears safety Chris Harris on Twitter (@ChrisHarrisNFL) know he has spent part of Tuesday intelligently and forcefully arguing against the NFL's decision to re-emphasize its rules regarding hits to the head and neck area. Much of the discussion came before news broke that three players would be fined a combined $175,000 for such hits during Sunday's games.

Harris just tweeted that fines on the Pittsburgh Steelers' James Harrison and the Atlanta Falcons' Dunta Robinson are "so wrong on so many levels." Below, I've tried to arrange his earlier tweets to give you a sense of what a smart NFL player is saying about this turn of events.
I'm all for player safety. This is a violent barbaric sport. You have a split second to make decisions when making a hit, as a DB my job is

To make the play or cause a fumble. U can't half [way] a tackle n this league bc players like adrien peterson,josh cribbs,aquan boldin will

Break those tackles. Its a fine line. That's part of the sport n u knew that when u signed that contract to play football.

I guarantee u Dick Butkus,Mike Singletary, Richard Dent,Doug Plank,Otis Wilson didn't think twice when hittin someone but NFL want us to now

No one intentionally tries to hit illegally (helmet to helmet) its just part of the game. The reason u see a lot of guys getting hurt now as

Opposed to back n the day is bc its a diff breed of athletes now. Guys r a lot stronger and faster which creates higher impact hits.

Ur not supposed to be 250lbs n be able to run a 4.3 but that's what ur dealing with that u didn't have back n the day therefore the velocity

And impact these guys are hitting with is unbelievable and of course dangerous. Its a damn Gladiator mentality. #sorry

I feel the NFL is singling out defensive players. What about the running backs who are running towards me then lower their heads at contact

Will they get suspended as well?

Think about the Brandon Jacobs n Marion Barbers n Adrien Petersons. They r physical runners who lower their heads n try to run u over to get

That extra yard or first down. That's inviting helmet to helmet contact. There is no way u can get from it in this league ....point blank

I'll be fascinated to see whether these big fines, and the threat of future suspensions, will actually impact the way the game is played. Violence is both the best friend and enemy of the NFL, and has been for many years. It was exactly 50 years ago, in fact, when Chuck Bednarik knocked out Frank Gifford during a game. Gifford was hospitalized with a concussion and didn't play again until 1962.

I agree with Harris. This game is the closet thing to gladiators that we have in modern mainstream sports. Can the NFL walk a line and ask players to be less violent? Isn't it all or nothing?

Free Head Exam: Green Bay Packers

October, 18, 2010
After the Green Bay Packers' 23-20 loss Sunday to the Miami Dolphins, here are three issues that merit further examination:
Head Exam
Kevin SeifertThe Green Bay Packers take their turn in the examination room after their loss to the Miami Dolphins.

  1. ESPN Stats & Information came up with some numbers that suggest the Packers' defense was pretty weak up the middle Sunday, an unsurprising development considering the injury situation at linebacker and safety. Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne completed 14 of 17 passes between the numbers for 135 yards and two touchdowns. When he targeted outside receivers near the sideline, he completed nine of 21 passes. Meanwhile, tailbacks Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams gained 86 percent of their combined yardage on runs between the numbers. Future opponents will no doubt notice the trend.
  2. Over on Twitter, @JezzicaBe noted the irony of quarterback Aaron Rodgers getting two teeth chipped on a hit one day after we discussed multiple other occasions of questionable contact. After taking in the weekend's action, I think we can all agree the NFL has failed to protect all players -- quarterbacks or otherwise -- from head shots. Google "James Harrison" or "Dunta Robinson" and you'll see what I'm talking about. Where and when will it end? I shudder to think what could happen before substantive changes are made. This game has moved from violent to dangerous and is approaching a level that isn't even entertaining. NFL vice president Ray Anderson told that he could start suspending players for helmet-to-helmet hits, but we'll wait on the action behind those words. Everyone wants to see collisions. No one (I hope) wants to see violent injuries.
  3. I didn't like the late penalty call against Robert Francois any more than you did. It appeared that Francois was beyond the necessary yard off center on a fourth-quarter punt, and the call shouldn't have been made. I know it extended a Dolphins drive, but I hope no one is hiding behind it to explain why the Packers lost. There were multiple other opportunities to win this game. More concerning is why the offense continues to have long gaps between efficiency, as well as the Packers' difficulties winning close games. All three losses this season have come by three points. Their special teams haven't been very good as a whole, and I imagine that Tim Masthay could be kicking for his job Sunday night against the Minnesota Vikings. But let's stop blaming officials for losses that were otherwise avoidable.
And here is one issue I don't get:
Weekend reports about the potential availability of Dallas Cowboys tailback Marion Barber naturally connected the Packers. I don't doubt the Packers' need for a player of Barber's multiple skills, even though his bruising style suggests a body older than its 27 years. But I'll say it once again: Why do we include the Packers in trade rumors for veteran players? I can't totally rule out the possibility, but let's just reiterate that such a trade would fall wholly against general manager Ted Thompson's recent history. Look at what he's done so far this season. Reacting to the Packers' slew of injuries, he's signed running back Dimitri Nance off the Atlanta Falcons' practice squad. He's re-signed defensive end Mike Montgomery and now traded for safety Anthony Smith, who spent 2009 in training camp with the Packers. Like it or not, those moves fit Thompson's profile much more than trading for Barber.