It was a play that had no impact on the game, but could have a big impact on the season, not to mention Sam Bradford’s health.
If you follow the Eagles at all, you’ve already seen and/or heard about the controversial play that has stirred up Eagles fans and also caught the notice of players and coaches around the NFL: In the first quarter of Saturday night’s preseason game against Baltimore, Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs rushed Bradford and hit the quarterback near his knees (and if you follow the Eagles at all, you know all about Bradford’s knees) after the Eagles’ QB had handed the ball off to a running back.
That play drew a penalty flag and the wrath of the Eagles coaches and players and their fans. And then those flames were fanned the next day when Dean Blandino, the head of officiating for the NFL, said that it was a legal hit and Suggs shouldn’t have been penalized. The reason? The Eagles often run a read-option offense, where the quarterback can hand the ball to a running back or keep it himself, to either run or pass. Because of that, Blandino said, Bradford can be hit if it’s clear the defender doesn’t know if he still has the ball or not.
This is really a small part of a bigger problem, namely that the NFL has constantly changed its rules in the last decade to protect their biggest stars, the quarterbacks. It’s gotten to the point where you can’t touch a receiver or breathe on the passer, and that’s the main reason Kelly is so upset – if you’re going to protect the quarterback, then protect him.
That hits home in South Philadelphia because of the offense the Eagles run and also because of their quarterback’s history of knee problems – Bradford missed the last two seasons because of a torn ACL. But that hit by Suggs was also noticed all the way over on the West Coast by Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, and he agrees with Kelly.
Like Kelly, Carroll has a personal reason for his opinion – his Pro Bowl quarterback, Russell Wilson, runs the read-option and probably does it better than any quarterback in the league because of his athleticism and his decision-making, the two most important qualities the QB needs to have to run that offense well. The read-option is a big part of Seattle’s offense and Carroll was already concerned about the NFL’s rule about hitting a quarterback who runs the read-option, and when he saw the video tape of Suggs’ hit on Bradford it pushed his concern-meter over the top. Carroll even called the NFL office in New York because he wanted to have the ruled clarified – but his real reason was to call the NFL’s attention to the play and its possible consequences.
“I’ve seen a couple of [hits on the quarterback] and I really thought they were worthy of being noted as penalties,’’ Carroll told reporters in Seattle. “Obviously, we’re really tuned into that. We’re counting on the league to do a really good job of doing that well so we take care of the QBs. You can force this thing about [whether] they’re a runner. When they don’t have the ball in their hands and the ball is already handed off and gone [as was the case with Suggs’ hit on Bradford], [officials] have to make good decisions, hopefully.
“So, we’ll be very much part of that discussion if things continue like it’s going,’’ Carroll added, “because it’s not right.’’
But is it illegal? The NFL says it is not, or at least that’s what they’re saying right now. That could change, because this league is always changing its rules or the way the officials are supposed to interpret and enforce those rules. Sometimes it draws a lot of criticism, like the tuck rule that saved the New England Patriots in the 2001 AFC Championship game against Rich Gannon and the Oakland Raiders, or the complete-the-catch rule that took away a game-changing reception from Dallas wide receiver Dez Bryant in the Cowboys’ 26-21 playoff loss to Green Bay last season.
Those were both confusing and sometimes conflicting rules that created major controversies, and the NFL already has plenty of them. And that’s why Kelly and Carroll are shining a light on the situation, to draw attention to it.
As for Suggs’ hit, I don’t think it was dirty and even though it looked intentional, he really didn’t hit Bradford that hard or directly on his knee. As they say in another sport: no harm, no foul. Still, the official on the spot thought it was a penalty and then later his boss said it wasn’t. So, you decide what it was, because apparently the NFL can’t.