It’s one thing for Brandon Meriweather's hits to cost him money and even for them to cost the Washington Redskins' defense some yards. The latter hurts, and this team isn’t good enough to always overcome those mistakes.
It’s quite another when they cost Meriweather games, particularly at a time when the Redskins are trying to build any sort of momentum and face arguably the NFL’s best quarterback Sunday and another top QB the following Sunday.
The NFL is considering a one- or two-game suspension for Meriweather, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
It leaves the Redskins in a major bind because Meriweather plays a position where they have no depth -- and they don’t know yet whether Reed Doughty will be able to start Sunday because of a concussion. There’s a reason the Redskins have used E.J. Biggers and Josh Wilson more at safety in recent weeks than any of the other backups. Bacarri Rambo? He hasn’t shown any reason to believe he’ll do a better job at safety than Biggers. He responded to being benched by not improving on special teams and eventually being inactive.
There’s no unsigned safety who could come in and help, though they could always turn again to Jordan Pugh. But what, exactly, would that get them? And before anyone asks (and they still will), Tanard Jackson is still suspended, and if you haven’t heard an update, it’s because nothing has changed. Jose Gumbs was a surprise roster addition out of training camp, but he's played only nine snaps in his career. You want him lining up deep against Peyton Manning?
With Meriweather in the lineup, the Redskins have an exuberant player capable of making solid tackles, when he's not leading with his helmet. They can run blitzes like they did Sunday where David Amerson is sent from the numbers, knowing Meriweather can rotate over in time to defend even a speedy receiver. It’s a little wrinkle that helps the defense.
So he obviously has merit. But that obscures the larger point about Meriweather. Is he capable of change? Yes, it’s tough for a defensive back in the modern NFL to sometimes know how to hit a receiver. He’s not a big guy at 5-foot-11, 197 pounds, so it’s not as if he can just form tackle everyone to the ground. It’s a romantic notion, but not always realistic.
Meriweather grew up watching a different game that safeties could play. You want to call him a headhunter? Go ahead. The NFL agrees with you, if the numerous fines and likely suspension mean anything.
“I think they’re trying to be safe, and I think the only way to be safe is to do what they’re doing,” Meriweather said. “But at the same time, this is tackle football. A job of a safety is to instill fear, and you can’t do that with pulling up.”
No, you can’t. But you also can’t take two or three steps and hit a receiver who already has dropped the ball, as he did on Brandon Marshall in the end zone. That’s not the effects of a new rule; that’s just undisciplined football. When a player has a history of that, it will continue to haunt him (just like it did with Mark Carrier back in the day).
Meriweather's lack of discipline hurt him in New England and Chicago. It’s hurting him here -- as well as the Redskins. Others may view Meriweather as a bad guy; we’ve seen him as a fun player to interview. Is he a bad guy? I don’t have that evidence from my dealings with him.
But this isn’t about whether he is a good or bad guy. It’s about how he plays. And he plays a reckless style that puts his team in a bind at times. Only now there’s a difference between it costing his team 15 yards and costing him games.
And this isn’t just about his hits on Sunday. It’s about a player with a repeated pattern of making the same mistake. You can dislike the new rules all you want -- and I’m not always a fan of them either -- but if they lower the speed limit on the roads I drive, I still have to obey the law.
The first penalty was evidence of the new NFL. But I also saw Bears corner Charles Tillman deliver a strong shoulder blow when Robert Griffin III ran out of bounds on one play. No, it wasn’t a bang-bang play as they are with receivers, but it was still a good, solid hit. So it can be done.
The Redskins can’t cut Meriweather because they have zero legitimate alternatives. The NFL will teach him a lesson, and the Redskins will cross their fingers and hope that he learns it. History suggests that’s a long shot.