In week 2 of the NFL preseason, Sam Bradford made his first start for the Philadelphia Eagles after recovering from a second ACL tear that sidelined him for most of last season. He was impressive, completing 3-of-5 passes and leading the Eagles to a touchdown in his only drive of the game. But what stuck out to me was Terrell Suggs’ incredibly dirty hit on Bradford during the fifth play of the game, and the response from the NFL shortly afterward.
During the play, Bradford handed the ball off to a running back only to be hit by Terrell Suggs at his knees. While it can be debated about whether this was a zone read run play, the fact is that Bradford was a defenseless player who clearly did not have the football. Yet he was hit at the knees.
Suggs was initially assessed a 15-yard penalty on the play, but days after the game the NFL’s Vice President of Officiating, Dean Blandino, claimed the hit should have been legal. Blandino claimed Bradford was carrying out a read option play and was a potential runner, and thus the hit was legal.
What the NFL ignores, however, is that Suggs did not even look at the running back, hand-off mesh point, or even the ball. He took several steps forward, and put his head down and dove into Sam Bradford’s knees.
It can be debated whether this was a read option play that would have allowed Suggs to legally hit Bradford. What is clear is that in a meaningless preseason game and after the ball was clearly handed off, Suggs deliberately tried to injure the opposing quarterback. His comments to the media after the game supported those ideas.
“When you run the read option, you’ve got to know the rules,” Suggs said. “If you want to run the read option with your starting quarterback that’s had two knee surgeries, that’s on you. That’s not my responsibility to update you on the rules, you see what I’m saying? I could have hit him harder than that. I didn’t. I eased up.”
After several years of fighting off bad press regarding research about the effect of concussions, the health issues former players face, and a bounty scandal regarding one of the league’s premier teams, it is shocking to hear the NFL support Suggs’ action and try to justify it. This sets a terrible example for both NFL defenders told to hit and hurt quarterbacks while defending zone read plays, and to young kids playing football at the game’s lower levels.
How can youth football coaches be expected to coach kids to play the game in a safe way if the NFL is going to pretend it is okay to dive at the knees of a defenseless player as long as he is running a zone read? How are coaches expected to teach kids to keep their heads up and tackle in the midsection if one of the league’s top defensive players dives headfirst at the knees of an exposed and unprotected player?
How are coaches expected to teach kids to not try to deliberately injure the opponent if the kids see such behavior at the professional level?
I love football. I love the way it can teach young men how to work hard, play as a team, and to persevere through obstacles. However, fans should not tolerate a professional league preaching safety at its lower levels while allowing one of its marquee players to try to deliberately injure another human being due to a silly technicality.
Its a good thing Chip Kelly has four quarterbacks on his roster. If this is how the NFL is going to encourage defenses to play against the zone read, Kelly might need every single one before the end of the season.