We explained earlier today that the rule book contains language supporting Harrison’s belief that McCoy was fair game for a helmet-to-helmet hit because he was running with the ball toward the line of scrimmage before flipping it at the last instant to running back Montarrio Hardesty. But the league has sent to PFT an explanation of the roughing the passer penalty called on Harrison, and the league’s explanation suggests that Harrison will be facing discipline next week.
“In the fourth quarter of the Cleveland Browns-Pittsburgh Steelers game last night, Steelers linebacker James Harrison was penalized for roughing the passer,” the league said. “Rule 12, Section 2, Article 13(8) and (3) of the NFL Rule Book (page 75-76) is applicable to the roughing the passer penalty called against Harrison.
“When a passer is outside the pocket area as in the case of Cleveland quarterback Colt McCoy last night, he is still afforded the protection of Rule 12, Section 2, Article 13 (3), which prohibits defensive players from using their helmet against a passer who is in a defenseless posture, including by “forcibly hitting the passer’s head or neck area with the helmet or facemask, regardless of whether the defensive player also uses his arms to tackle the passer by encircling or grasping him.”
The text of the applicable rules appears after the break.
Rule 12, Section 2, Article 13(8) contains language that could give Harrison a safe harbor based on the fact that McCoy was running with the ball toward the line of scrimmage before he flipped the ball to Hardesty, by exempting from the rule any quarterback who is “attempting to advance the ball as a runner.” So I specifically asked league spokesman Greg Aiello whether McCoy would be viewed as “attempting to advance the ball as a runner.”
In response, Aiello pointed out the presence of the following clause, from the same rule: “or throws while on the run.” This apparently means that, in the league’s view, the fact that McCoy threw while running with the ball brought him within the protection against blows to the head, even if he was before throwing the ball “attempting to advance the ball as a runner.”
As a result, Harrison most likely will be hearing from the league next Tuesday. Given his history — three fines last year for hits on quarterbacks and one for unnecessary roughness for a total post-appeal amount of $57,500 — Harrison now faces a significant fine, and possibly a suspension.
HITS TO PASSER’S HEAD AND USE OF HELMET AND FACEMASK
(3) In covering the passer position, Referees will be particularly alert to fouls in which defenders impermissibly use the helmet and/or facemask to hit the passer, or use hands, arms, or other parts of the body to hit the passer forcibly in the head or neck area (see also the other unnecessary-roughness rules covering these subjects). A defensive player must not use his helmet against a passer who is in a defenseless posture for example, (a) forcibly hitting the passer’s head or neck area with the helmet or facemask, regardless of whether the defensive player also uses his arms to tackle the passer by encircling or grasping him, or (b) lowering the head and making forcible contact with the top/crown or forehead/”hairline” parts of the helmet against any part of the passer’s body. This rule does not prohibit incidental contact by the mask or non-crown parts of the helmet in the course of a conventional tackle on a passer.
PASSER OUT OF THE POCKET
(8) When the passer goes outside the pocket area and either continues moving with the ball (without attempting to advance the ball as a runner) or throws while on the run, he loses the protection of the one-step rule provided for in (1) above, and the protection against a low hit provided for in (5) above, but he remains covered by all the other special protections afforded to a passer in the pocket (numbers 2, 3, 4, 6, and 7), as well as the regular unnecessary-roughness rules applicable to all player positions. If the passer stops behind the line and clearly establishes a passing posture, he will then be covered by all of the special protections for passers.