The Miami Dolphins lost an important member of their offense this weekend when starting tight end Dustin Keller suffered a season-ending knee injury. Keller was hit low on his right knee while trying to make a catch and his leg hyperextended.
The hit by Houston’s D.J. Swearinger was gruesome but it was not illegal. He was not flagged on the play and will not be fined by the league office. The only loser on this play is Keller, who now has a long rehabilitation ahead and will miss an entire season of football.
However, the play re-opens the debate on the NFL’s stance on low hits. Defensive players are being encouraged more often to hit low on players now that blows to the head are resulting in increasingly large fines and penalties.
"With the rules in this era you’ve got to hit low," Swearinger said, according to ESPN.com’s Tania Ganguli. "If I would have hit him high, I would have gotten a fine. So I think I made the smartest play. I’m sorry it happened and I pray he has a speedy recovery.”
Swearinger’s makes a fair point. Going low is the safest way for a defender to avoid concussions and the wrath of the NFL. But the byproduct is tackling players low can result in major knee and leg injuries that end seasons and are difficult to recover from.
There's no perfect answer to this dilemma. If the NFL starts penalizing low hits and high hits, there won't be many ways to bring an offensive player down. For now, Keller and the Dolphins just have to live with the consequences.