BLITZ: New interpretation of rules hasn't been a hit

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David Moore

David Moore has been the senior football writer for FOX Sports since Aug. 2005. He appears weekly on the FSN Baseball Report and MLB on FOX. One more line lorem ipsum dolor sit amet e pluribus unum.

San Diego¿s will have the chance to sit back this weekend, watch a few NFL games and reflect on what constitutes an illegal hit. If he figures it out, maybe he can let everyone else know. Defensive players and coaches around the league have expressed varying degrees of frustration and confusion with what is being called — and later fined — in the first eight weeks of the season. They acknowledge the need for safety. They understand that if a defender leads with his head and is involved in a helmet-on-helmet collision, he will be penalized for unnecessary roughness, fined and possibly suspended. What they don¿t understand is how hits that were considered clean in years past now draw scrutiny. What they don¿t understand is how the league can eject or suspend a player for an infraction that is unavoidably vague in its interpretation. ¿It¿s one thing to assess a 15-yard penalty,¿¿ Miami coach Dave Wannstedt said. ¿It¿s taken on a whole different life this year with guys being suspended for a game. ¿If you eject or suspend someone, I think you need to be 100 percent convinced that the offense that was committed was intentional, that the intent to hurt somebody was definitely the motive. I think there should probably be a lot more clarification in what constitutes that type of action. Probably needs to be, really.¿¿ The general feeling among those surveyed Wednesday is that the penalties meted out don¿t fit the crime. Defenders aren¿t allowed to drive through a defenseless player. The spirit of the rule is to protect receivers who extended themselves in an attempt to catch an overthrown pass. Some defensive coordinators will tell you it now seems to have mutated into any pass thrown over the middle. ¿It looks like they¿re experimenting out there,¿¿ one NFC defensive coordinator said. ¿Every time you have a rule change or have a rule adjusted there is a period of time before the message becomes clear. ¿It seems that what the league office wants has not quite been communicated yet. That is why the players aren¿t getting it right.¿¿ Harrison has been suspended for Sunday¿s game against the New York for a hit he administered to Oakland¿s in Week 7 — a hit that didn¿t draw a flag during the game. That¿s the same week Denver¿s served a suspension for a hit that rendered Miami¿s unconscious. Dallas¿ was fined $75,000 Wednesday for a helmet-to-helmet hit that knocked Seattle¿s out of the game and sent him to the hospital after he suffered a seizure. Philadelphia¿s is awaiting a ruling from the league office on the hit that knocked New York receiver out for the season with a dislocated shoulder. These are simply the high-profile incidents over the last three weeks. There are plenty of flags and $7,500 fines being levied every week that don¿t earn national attention. One coordinator said it reminds him of several years ago when the league modified its stance on pass interference. In tightening the screws on the rule, it initially allowed more room for interpretation and uncertainty. ¿They say you can¿t put a big hit on a defenseless receiver,¿¿ said one coordinator who has had his players fined. ¿Determining where he¿s defenseless is a question. ¿I don¿t know. Does that mean you can¿t make a play on the ball? A lot of times the ball is going to be close to the chest, close to the head. What happens if the defender gets there at the same time as the ball? ¿Are you defenseless when you jump straight up in the air and the defender hits you in the stomach? Aren¿t you defenseless anytime your feet are off the ground? ¿I guess you have to let them catch it. I¿m not sure. Let them catch it and start hitting a guy low. If he gets broken ribs, I assume that¿s OK." It¿s would be easy to dismiss this as macho bluster, as some defensive-minded lament over the erosion of the inalienable right to inflict pain on the opponent. The problem, coordinators say, is that their players are being fined for trying to avoid a helmet-to-helmet hit. ¿There¿s no confusion over the rule,¿¿ an AFC defensive coordinator said. ¿It¿s just that sometimes, it¿s unavoidable. ¿You can¿t lead with the head. The thing is, the receiver may just move a little bit before impact when you go to deliver a blow. A lot of these are over the middle. That little, sudden movement, where a receiver ducks his head down to pad level, results in a helmet-to-helmet hit when you were going for his pads. ¿Everything is happening at such a fast speed, it¿s hard. There are going to be some times that a player is fined when he¿s trying to avoid the head gear-to-head gear hit.¿¿ You want irony? Kennedy hit Chambers so hard that he missed Miami¿s next game, leaving the without their best deep threat in a key division game against Buffalo. Miami lost. But ask Wannstedt if Kennedy deserved to be suspended, and he¿s not sure. He will tell you the safety exhibited poor tackling technique by keeping his head down, leaving his feet and failing to wrap his arms around Chambers. But after watching the tape, he found truth to Denver¿s argument that Kennedy aimed low, someone else pushed Chambers in the back and his head snapped into the path of Kennedy¿s helmet. ¿I don¿t think there¿s a player in this league, I know I¿ve never coached one, who intentionally tried to hurt another player,¿¿ Wannstedt said. ¿It all sounds good, but I don¿t buy into that. ¿Very, very few cases are premeditated.¿¿ Wannstedt and others point out the rule hasn¿t changed. It¿s simply become a point of emphasis this season. And none of this is meant as an indictment of Gene Washington, the head of football operations for the league. The man who determines the fines and suspensions, with the blessing of commissioner Paul Tagliabue, has the safety of the players and the integrity of the game at heart. But it¿s also clear that the two sides aren¿t on the same page about what this rule means and how it should be enforced. ¿What is the criteria?¿¿ Wannstedt asked. ¿Any time you eject or suspend a player, any time you take an action of that magnitude, you need to be really clear. ¿I think we will spend some time on this in the spring meetings. We need to be more exact.¿¿

Bledsoe prime example

The NFL is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league. No one exemplifies that more than Buffalo¿s . The quarterback spent the first nine years of his career in New England. He was the player the franchise was built around. Bledsoe started the first two games last season before a chest injury and internal bleeding forced him to the sidelines. Once he returned, he discovered he had lost his job to , a second-year player who would eventually lead the to the championship. ¿When you play in this league, you¿re on trial every week for your job,¿¿ Bledsoe said. ¿No question. If you play for a long time, maybe you get a couple of weeks before your job is on the line. ¿Every player who takes the field in this league knows they can get yanked. I¿m an example of that. I did a lot of things in New England, got hurt, the other guy played well and when I came back, I couldn¿t get back on the field. Everyone understands that can happen. ¿I certainly do even more now.¿¿ Bledsoe faces the Sunday afternoon in Buffalo for the first time since the trade. Last season was tough, but the quarterback said he was gratified to be part of a championship team even though he didn¿t have much to contribute in the stretch. He said he was thankful to be traded and couldn¿t envision landing in a better situation than the one he found in Buffalo. Sunday, he takes the field for a team that has a better record (5-3) than New England and could administer the their fifth consecutive loss. ¿Since the time I was traded, I received questions about this game and my response has always been the same,¿¿ Bledsoe said. ¿I hoped when it came around that it had implications for the playoff race. That has proven to be true. ¿On a personal level, yeah, of course I want to win the game. It will be an emotional game for me and for some of them (Patriots) as well. I will try and keep myself under control for the week. ¿Ultimately, I will go have fun with it and do everything I can to win.¿¿

Fourth and short

  • Bledsoe knew what kind of receiver he would have in . He had a good idea what could do at tight end. The biggest surprise since his arrival in Buffalo has been receiver , who has caught 51 passes for 740 yards and six touchdowns. ¿Peerless is an outstanding receiver at the pinnacle of his game,¿¿ Bledsoe said. ¿He has great speed, good quickness, tremendous hands and an outstanding work ethic. I¿ll tell you, I don¿t know if anyone in the league is playing better than Peerless — unless it¿s Eric.¿¿
  • Here¿s a shock. Quarterback practiced with Green Bay Wednesday afternoon for the first time since hurting his knee Oct. 20 and should be ready to play Monday night when the face Miami. That would extend his streak of consecutive games started to 165.
  • Miami quarterback went to the doctor Wednesday and was told he could remove the cast on his throwing hand in another two weeks. Once it¿s off, the will have a better idea of how quickly the fractured thumb is healing and when he can return. Senior writer David Moore can be reached at his e-mail address,
  • Tagged: Cowboys, Broncos, Raiders, Dolphins, Giants, Jets, Eagles, Seahawks, Chargers, Jerry Rice, Chris Chambers, Ike Hilliard, Brian Dawkins

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