1. After watching nearly a dozen crushing, very dangerous hits this weekend, what, if any, solution is there to the viciousness with which the game is played?
Steven: There’s no doubt that helmet-to-helmet collisions are dangerous, but I don’t see an easy resolution to ending these hits from happening. Fining and suspending players certainly hurts, but there are times where collisions are going to happen and there’s nothing either player can do. Considering the speed and athletic ability of any player in the NFL, it’s impossible to eliminate all helmet-to-helmet contact, especially when some collisions that occur today are incidental. Big hits and violent collisions are simply a part of football and that doesn’t need to change – this is a contact sport after all. Player safety needs to be protected, but when several players come out and express their disappointment about the fines/suspensions for big hits, the NFL has a tough road to figure out any solution to it’s problem.
Braden: I may be the only person who geniunly does not care about the long term health effects of concussions amongst NFL players. Okay, that sounded harsh. Of course, I want people to be healthy and able to experience life at the highest level. However, my concern is not with someone who makes millions of dollars to play a sport. They know what they signed up for — for better or worse, deal with it. My concern is how do we police this with our children? Pop Warner leagues, middle schools and high schools do not have the technology or ability to curtail the violence like they can in the NFL. Are we going to fine 8th graders? No, so setting the example at the highest level, to me, seems like the only out here. And the officials need to be better at it. The James Harrison hit this weekend (the one on Massoquoi) wasn't even flagged! Bigger fines and suspensions might be the answer.
Nathan: Nothing needs to be done. Helmet-to-helmet hits on defenseless receivers should be flagged and fined. That’s it. No “violent hit” ejections or suspensions are necessary. But that won’t happen. Roger Goodell is mad with power and paranoia, inventing a new game with the same name and turning the NFL into the “Not Football League.”
2. Would you make pass interference a 15-yard max penalty, like in the college game?
Steven: A case could be made for each, but the current pass interference penalty is what I would prefer in both games. I think the current format encourages better play by the defensive backs. If a team throws a 40-yard pass in college and the defensive back thinks he is beat, a 15-yard penalty is almost a victory. The spot foul penalty isn’t much better, but if you prevent a receiver from catching the ball for a 30-yard gain, the offense deserves an opportunity to move the chains to that mark.
Braden: This obviously stems from the Jets gift — albeit an accurate and appropriate gift — win over the Broncos. The call was right, but should the entire game have hinged on one penalty? It was 4th and 6 and the throw was basically a prayer. I think you make the rule a spot foul up until the 20-yard mark. That still makes it the biggest penalty in the rule book without giving teams 50-yards on a penalty. The only concen is the defense's ability to abuse the rule. If DBs get beat, a 20-yard penalty is much better than a 80-yard TD. What is to stop players from blatently tackling receivers who just beat them deep? You can never make everyone happy, but that is a side effect I might be willing to deal with.
Nathan: Absolutely not. Pass interference in the NFL should remain penalized at the spot of the foul. The only issue with pass interference is the inconsistent nature in which it is called by officials. There is nothing wrong with the rule itself.
Is Rivers part of the problem or the solution?
3. With losses to Kansas City, Seattle, St. Louis and Oakland already, where does the blame for the Chargers' struggles fall?
Steven: San Diego’s issues start with an arrogant general manager in A.J. Smith, but much of the blame has to fall on Norv Turner. The Chargers seem to get off to a slow start every year and this is a team that has had good opportunities to make a run at a Super Bowl, but never puts it together. Turner’s record at San Diego is a solid 34-20, but if the Chargers want to take the next step and reach a Super Bowl, he is not the coach to do it.
Braden: Archie Manning just might have been right. This team has outgained its opponents by 1,065 yards and has lost to some of the dregs of the league. The entire organization should probably be blamed for the pathetic start to the 2010 season, but if I had to narrow it down, I go to the three leaders of the franchise. It starts with the over-bearing, egomaniac A.J. Smith and his inability to play well with others. Head coach Norv Turner might be an excellent offensive mind, but has no business leading an NFL team into battle each weekend (just watch their special teams). That leaves Mr. Rivers. His talent is obvious. In fact, he is actually on pace to top Dan Marino's single-season passing yards mark (5,084), but, at times, has proven that his mental focus and toughness are lacking. Since the 2004 draft, the Chargers have underarchieved when it counts, and Eli has a Super Bowl ring. You do the math — or just ask L.T.
Nathan: The Chargers are notoriously slow starters with coach Norv Turner and quarterback Philip Rivers. They started 2–3 before cruising to a 13–3 record last season; they were 3–5 before finishing 8–8 with a division title in 2008; and they were 1–3 before an 11–5 mark with an AFC title game berth in 2007. This year’s 2–4 start is cause for concern, but it’s nothing new for the powder blue Bolts. As far as blame goes, Turner and Rivers shoulder the load, whether they’re losing early or winning late.
4. Give me your top three MVP candidates?
Steven: This may be a boring pick, but Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning would get my vote at No. 1 right now. The injuries around him continue to mount, but the Colts find ways to win, thanks to Manning. After Manning, it’s a crowded field to get in line at the No. 2 and No. 3 spots. The quarterbacks – Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers and Kyle Orton are all in the mix and at running back – Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster, Steven Jackson, LaDainian Tomlinson and Chris Johnson. I’d probably vote Brady No. 2, but I’ll throw an interesting name for No. 3 – Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu. The Steelers defense has returned to elite status with Polamalu back in the lineup and as long as he stays healthy, this is team poised to make a run at another Super Bowl.
Braden: The heart strings want to go with LaDainian Tomlinson. The ageless wonder is one of the great people of the sport and is performing on arguably the best team in the league at the highest level. His leadership and maturity have undoubtedly been priceless for this young, brash team. Yet, this might be the most talented team in the league, so he certianly isn't doing it alone (try the best O-line in football). That leaves two familiar faces, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. But if the playoffs started today, based on head-to-head, division record and conference record tie-breakers, the Colts would not make the playoffs. The Patriots would be the AFC's first Wild Card. Brady has done slightly more with slightly less. I would throw Troy Polomalu, Ray Lewis, Drew Brees, Clay Matthews (if healthy) and Nick Mangold into the mix as well.
Nathan: It’s a little early for MVP talk, but I’ll go with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Titans running back Chris Johnson and Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson as my top three.
5. Gus Johnson. Love him or hate him?
Steven: He may be over the top sometimes, but I enjoy listening to Gus Johnson call the games on CBS. What’s wrong with adding a little excitement to the broadcast? I’d much rather listen to Johnson on the play-by-play than Joe Buck, Kenny Albert or Thom Brennaman. Even Johnson can make a seven-yard pass or a 25-yard kickoff sound exciting.
Braden: "Rise and Fire!" "Climb the Mountain!" 'Here comes the pain!" "Heart break city!" "I get buckets!" "The slipper still fits!" His voice can get a little difficult to listen to when he is screaming into the mic, but otherwise, he is simply "puuure!"
Nathan: Gus Johnson is the best in the business. I’m a huge fan. Not liking Gus Johnson’s enthusiasm is like telling a fan in front of you to sit down and stop cheering. You’re missing the point.
The voice of reason came from the unlikeliest of places, from a man who once made his reputation and his living by pushing the outer limits of safety and legality in the NFL. But Rodney Harrison, once a known head-hunter, once considered the dirtiest player in football, had finally seen enough.
Never mind the damage he had inflicted his career. His reform movement was sparked by a weekend of carnage — last weekend, in fact — when a season-long parade of players to MRI machines and CT scans and concussion specialists all erupted in one perfectly hideous storm. For a while it seemed like every game featured a highlight of a player getting laid out in a vicious, violent, helmet-to-helmet hit.
Other players, meanwhile, laid crumpled in a heap on the ground being tended to by trainers. One man’s ticket to SportsCenter is always another man’s ticket for an ambulance ride.
It happened in Philadelphia, where Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson ran full speed at Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson and collided with him head to head, helmet to helmet, leaving both players sprawled on the ground. Jackson later had memory loss and what was described as a “severe” concussion, with no one having any idea when he’d be back.
It happened, too, in Pittsburgh where linebacker James Harrison was remorseless in leveling two Cleveland Browns — receivers Josh Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi — with helmet-to-helmet hits. The NFL has reportedly ruled the hit on Cribbs to be borderline legal, though the one on Massaquoi clearly was not.
And it happened in New England where Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather delivered a helmet-to-helmet hit on Ravens tight end Todd Heap so over the line that even New England coach Bill Belichick was furious.
Fines are coming. Probably hefty fines. But it took Harrison — who collected over $200,000 in fines in his 15-year career on the edge — to implore the NFL that fines just aren’t enough.
“You didn’t get my attention when you fined me five grand, 10 grand, 15 grand,” Harrison, now an NBC analyst, said on Sunday Night Football. “You got my attention when I got suspended and I had to get away from my teammates and I disappointed my teammates from not being there. But you have to suspend these guys. These guys are making millions of dollars.”
There should be a chorus of “Amen” from NFL players who by now must be furious about putting their safety at risk thanks to a growing handful of cheap-shot artists who mistake the act of launching themselves like a head-hunting missile for the lost art of making a solid tackle. Sometime, in the Age of SportsCenter, form was lost in favor of getting an opponent “jacked up” and getting on the highlight reel.
The NFL claims it takes blows to the head seriously, and for proof they levy fines — fines in four and five figures for players making seven and eight figures per year. That may be enough to get the attention of an undrafted rookie making the NFL minimum. But will even a $25,000 fine mean anything to a player like Harrison who is in the second year of a six-year, $51 million contract that pays him an average of more than $8 million per year?
Apparently not, and not just because he did it twice on Sunday, but because he was defiant about his actions and unconcerned about the bodies he left in his chaotic wake.
“I don’t want to injure anybody, but I’m not opposed to hurting anybody,” Harrison said. “There’s a big difference between being hurt and being injured. You get hurt, you shake it off and come back the next series or the next game.”
There’s also a difference between being dumb and dumber, and it’s about as slim as the difference between being injured and hurt. He smashed two players in the head with his own head and left both with concussions. And for one of the hits, despite the damage, he said it would be “a travesty” if he got fined.
No, the travesty would be if he wasn’t suspended. But that’s coming soon, too — and not just because Rodney Harrison said so. Ray Anderson, the NFL’s VP of operations was apparently so horrified by what he saw on Sunday, he spoke out against the disturbing trend and predicted that the discipline could end being as hard as the hits are — and soon.
“Going forward there are certain hits that occurred that will be more susceptible to suspension,” Anderson said. “There are some that could bring suspensions for what are flagrant and egregious situations.
Again, from the chorus, can I hear an “Amen”?
“(If) the money does not seem to be a deterrent, then it has to be more than that,” said Giants coach Tom Coughlin. “It is quite frustrating, to be honest with you, if a player is forced to leave a game because of an illegal hit and the other player continues. That doesn’t really seem right.”
No it doesn’t. Nor does it seem safe. What it is, is disturbing on all fronts. And everybody is guilty. Coughlin may not like head-hunting, but his team spent $37 million on safety Antrel Rolle, whom last season as a member of the Arizona Cardinals went head-hunting on unsuspecting Giants tight end Kevin Boss. The Giants were furious with Rolle then. Yet they’re paying him now.
Meanwhile, the Robinson-Jackson hit — which was all over the highlight shows later that night — was shown twice on the four huge scoreboards inside the new, $1.7 million stadium while the Giants were beating the Detroit Lions on Sunday. Each time the crowd offered a cheer.
It was a sobering reminder of how distasteful that was later in the day when Lions linebacker Zack Follet lay motionless on the Meadowlands field after colliding, helmet-to-helmet with Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. That hit didn’t make some of the highlight shows because it was an inadvertent collision while Pierre-Paul was blocking on a kickoff return. It was poor tackling form, but likely won’t be considered illegal.
Plus, Follet was hurt — so badly, in fact, that he never seemed to move while laying on the field. He had to be rolled onto a backboard, carried to a cart, and carefully transported to a local hospital.
The highlight shows don’t want to celebrate results like that. But the hits? They’ll show the hits.
“(Fans) definitely like the big hits,” Boss said. “And guys want to make those big hits so they can get on SportsCenter.”
A few small fines won’t change that mentality. Just ask Harrison. Or Meriweather, who said after leaving Heap in a heap, “Point blank, won’t change my game, period.”
It’s time then, that someone changes the game for players like that.
Before somebody really gets hurt.