Houston defensive coordinator Wade Phillips asks absolutely reasonable questions when he wonders about the NFL’s $30,000 fine against Texans linebacker Tim Dobbins for a hit on Jay Cutler Sunday night.
Boiled down from Tania Ganguli’s story at the Houston Chronicle web site, is this:
Why is a hit to a quarterback on a play where he’s throwing the ball -- and after which he was able to stay in the game -- so much more costly than a hit to a linebacker’s knee that puts him out for the season?
Brian Cushing suffered a torn ACL when he was hit by Jets offensive lineman Matt Slauson in the Texans' Oct. 8 "Monday Night Football" win against New York at MetLife Stadium. Slauson wasn’t flagged, but it was judged an illegal peel-back block on a change of possession and resulted in a $10,000 fine.
Meanwhile, Dobbins’ hit on Cutler was priced at three times that.
Both games were on national TV.
The league can attempt to judge intent, severity, danger, result and anything it likes when doling out discipline. But while officials can slow down the tape and watch it from every available angle, they cannot get inside people’s heads.
And do we know, definitively, that Cutler suffered the concussion on the hit from Dobbins, and not on the very next play when he crashed into Kareem Jackson at the end of a scramble on the very next play? If the concussion came from that and not the Dobbins hit, would the league’s fine have been less? Should it have been?
I share Phillips’ confusion. He’s just on the sidelines in a headset and I’m just in the press box with binoculars. Imagine how much harder it is for amped up players at full speed to make judgments in play that leave them to sort through a FedEx envelop that is delivered to their lockers.
It was a dumb hit by Dobbins. He shouldn’t have been aiming so high. I’d even raise the dollar figure a bit for his denial that he hit Cutler in the head when it was clear he did.
It’s too easy and too dangerous to say the extent of an injury should have a bigger weight in the penalty assessment. Freak injuries happen in every game, and two of the same hits in the same circumstances -- as if there could be such an exact duplication -- wouldn’t necessarily have the same result.
The league can do better, however, at contextualizing what unfolds and comparing it to what else has unfolded. And it can do far better at making defenders feel like they aren’t half as important as their offensive brethren.
While concussions are the big issue now, let’s not disproportionately apply justice to plays connected to illegal hits connected to head injuries while minimizing others to different body parts. To at least a small degree, the league is telling Cushing that his knee means less than Cutler’s head. The two offenses shouldn’t automatically be the same fine. But they shouldn’t automatically be dramatically different, either.
It’s complicated stuff to sort out.
Take for example, the opinion of a defensive star in the league like Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher.
“I think they shouldn’t allow cut blocks because our knees are important to us, too,” Urlacher said, the same week his quarterback suffered a concussion, per Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune. “I know concussions are a big deal, too, but I think cut blocks are a big deal but that seems to be OK with the NFL so they’re not too concerned about safety. They’re concerned about long-term concussions, but immediately they are not concerned about your knees or your ankles or anything like that. I think that should be an issue."
That helps illustrate the league is hardly where it needs to be in getting a handle on player safety.
And while it can get a better handle, one might argue getting a good handle is simply never going to be possible given the game we’re discussing.