I’m talking to ESPN announcer and former coach Jon Gruden, because I need to set the record straight.
I am not a fan of Gruden’s. Not today, not yesterday, not when I worked for the NFL and not when I was working on the field as a side judge. He was a loudmouth as a coach who constantly disrespected officials and he is a blowhard in the broadcast booth who spouts off when he doesn’t know what he is talking about.
I respect his knowledge about the X’s and O’s when it comes to coaching and playing the game of football, but I have very little respect for him when it comes to officiating and his knowledge of the rules.
Monday night during the Falcons-Saints game, in the second quarter alone, Gruden butchered two plays regarding hits on defenseless receivers. To me, the second you agree to step into the broadcast booth, you agree to learn the rules. It goes with the job. You, as an announcer, have an obligation to know the rules. You are free to pontificate as to whether or not you like a rule, but you must present the rule first.
We’ll get to the two specific plays, but first I want to go over what the rulebook says about hits on defenseless receivers.
Rule 12, Article 9, (a), (2), defines a defenseless receiver as “a receiver attempting to catch a pass; or who has completed a catch and has not had time to protect himself or has not clearly become a runner. If the receiver/runner is capable of avoiding or warding off the impending contact of an opponent, he is no longer a defenseless player.”
Rule 12, Article 9, (b), goes on to say that prohibited contact against a player who is in a defenseless posture is: (1) “Forcibly hitting the defenseless player’s head or neck area with the helmet, facemask, forearm, or shoulder, regardless of whether the defensive player also uses his arms to tackle the defenseless player by encircling or grasping him; and lowering the head and making forcible contact with the top/crown or forehead/hairline parts of the helmet against any part of the defenseless player’s body.”
In layman’s terms, a receiver is defenseless in the process of making the catch and beyond until he has clearly become a runner, which by rule, means he has control with two feet clearly down and he has maintained control long enough “to perform an act common to the game,” which is to say he maintains control long enough to pitch it, pass it, advance with it or ward off an opponent.
If a receiver is defenseless, he cannot be hit in the head or neck area, with any part of the defender’s helmet, shoulder or forearm. A defender also cannot lead with the crown or hairline portion of his helmet and make contact with the receiver anywhere on his body.
Here is the first play in question from Monday’s game:
THE SITUATION: New Orleans had the ball, first-and-10 at the Atlanta 37-yard line with 13:37 remaining in the second quarter.
THE PLAY: Saints quarterback Drew Brees completes a 9-yard pass to Marques Colston. Atlanta’s Curtis Lofton is called for an illegal hit on a defenseless receiver. Lofton hit Colston helmet-to-helmet, which was acknowledged by ESPN play-by-play announcer Mike Tirico. Replays clearly confirmed the helmet-to-helmet contact before Colston had completed the catch and clearly become a runner.
GRUDEN’S COMMENTS: “I don’t know. Going to get Lofton for spearing. I’d throw the ball every play if that’s a penalty. Hopkins is entitled to play in the middle of the field.”
Here is the second play:
THE SITUATION: Atlanta had the ball, third-and-one from the Atlanta 29-yard line with 11:06 remaining in the second quarter.
THE PLAY: Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan throws an incomplete pass to Reggie Kelly. Kelly is hit from behind by Malcolm Jenkins, who turns his head to the side and hits Kelly with his right shoulder in the area of the lower back. Tough hit, but legal. Jenkins did not hit Kelly in the head or neck area and he did not lead with the crown or hairline part of his helmet. It was exactly what the NFL is asking players to do.
GRUDEN’S COMMENTS: “I don’t know what the difference is than the one on Lofton. If Lofton’s penalty was 15 yards, then that’s 15 yards. I just don’t understand how games are being officiated.”
Gruden didn’t know the difference between the two hits. Well, let me help. Lofton’s was helmet-to-helmet, while Jenkins’ hit was shoulder to back. Duh!
Lofton’s hit was clearly a foul and the hit by Jenkins was not. That was why Lofton’s penalty was 15 yards and the Jenkins hit wasn’t penalized at all. Gruden said he doesn’t understand how games are being officiated? Correctly and consistently in this case. But that’s OK, Jon. Just throw the officials under the bus when you don’t know the rules. Officials are often criticized and sometimes, deservedly so.
Not in this case, however. It is Gruden who deserves the criticism.
I enjoy that feature done by ESPN’s studio hosts. Let’s see if they have the courage this week to shout “C’mon man, learn the rules’’ to Jon Gruden.