Facebook friend Kevin writes: My fear now is for player's safety below the waist. Looking back on Larry Fitzgerald's injury in the preseason, I came away with two possible scenarios: 1) the defensive player was smaller than Larry and deemed it necessary to hit him low in order to make the play; 2) the defensive player was mindful of the NFL's policy and found it necessary to to hit him low. If the latter is the reason, I think the NFL is indirectly going to be responsible for a rash of leg injuries that can be just as detrimental to a players career as head injuries, albeit not life threatening. What are your thoughts?
Mike Sando: Good discussion to have. Keyshawn Johnson raised similar concerns during the "Audibles" show Thursday on ESPN. He said he'd rather take hits to his upper body, including his head, than take hits to his legs.
The hit Fitzgerald took during the exhibition season came on a pass that was slightly high. Houston Texans safety Eugene Wilson hit Fitzgerald just above the knee, causing torque on the joint. NFL.com still has the play online as part of this highlight package. Hitting Fitzgerald low made more sense on this play because Fitzgerald was leaping when he made the reception. The 5-foot-10 Wilson wasn't going to hit the 6-foot-3 Fitzgerald high. It wasn't much of an option, though he could have hit Fitzgerald higher than the thigh.
My sense is that plays often happen too quickly for defenders to make calculated decisions about taking out receivers at their knees. I could be wrong, though. We could see more plays along those lines. The defensive players I've heard from generally say they'll continue playing the way they've been playing. There were a couple illegal plays out of hundreds in Week 6. We're not talking about something that happens every play or even every 50 plays. Defenders were already cutting down receivers at the legs in some cases, and that will continue. Defenders were already hitting receivers high, and that will continue.
Another former NFL receiver, Sterling Sharpe, told NFL Network viewers he thought receivers needed to do more in protecting themselves. Sharpe showed clips of Fitzgerald to illustrate how receivers should settle into zones, not run through them, when catching passes. The clips showed Fitzgerald apparently recognizing zone coverage and deciding to cut off his routes, allowing him to take punishment more on his terms. Sharpe thought Cleveland's Mohamed Massaquoi and Philadelphia's DeSean Jackson invited the controversial hits they absorbed in Week 6 by running through zones.