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Fangio’s comments highlight reason for player confusion about illegal hits

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It looks like it’s time for 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to make a trip to Manhattan.

Nearly three years after the NFL began to enforce more aggressively the rules regarding hits on defenseless receivers, players are still complaining about penalties called and fines imposed for hits that clearly cross the line of what the NFL does and doesn’t permit.

Fueling player confusion are the messages they receive from the men responsible for teaching them how to stay on the right side of the line.

Two years ago, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin heaped film-room praise on safety Ryan Clark for a hit that drew a $40,000 fine.  That resulted in Tomlin and his boss, Art Rooney II, being called to the league office for a meeting with the Commissioner.  Since then, there have been no inconsistencies and fewer (relatively speaking) complaints from Steelers players about the rules.  (It didn’t hurt that the league put Tomlin on the Competition Committee.)

Now, Fangio has spoken out about the manner in which officials enforce the rules regarding hits against defenseless players, questioning both a flag thrown and penalty imposed for a recent hit from 49ers safety Donte W/Hitner and complaining about the league’s preference that officials err on the side of safety.

But they no longer err on the side of safety.  “Err” has been removed from the equation.  Officials are instructed to aggressively enforce rules regarding player safety.  Even with that approach, multiple hits that resulted in fines weren’t flagged (e.g., DeMeco Ryans on Malcom Floyd, George Iloka on Jermichael Finley).

As to the hit from W/Hitner, the officials and the league have spoken.  It was a violation.  Any player in a defenseless posture should not be struck in the head/neck area.  For Fangio to say it was a “good play” contributes to general confusion regarding the rules, player and fan resentment of the league office, and ultimately unsafe play.

If coaches won’t be helping players understand what they can and can’t do, who will?  And if the problem persists, maybe coaches should also be fined when one of their players applies an illegal hit.

We’ve got a feeling that, if the money was coming out of the coaches’ paychecks, the situation would improve dramatically, and quickly.

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26 Responses to “Fangio’s comments highlight reason for player confusion about illegal hits”
  1. mibengal says: Oct 4, 2013 8:49 AM

    The problem is NOT coaches failing to train players how to hit. It’s vague subjective rules that are too hard to enforce consistently. It’s to the point were this game will eliminate the defense entirely. It will just be a contest to see how quickly an offense can move the ball down the field. Oh, I’ll probably still watch, but the game as it is being played today is not what it was.

  2. thefirstsmilergrogan says: Oct 4, 2013 9:00 AM

    and ive got a feeling that the league wants us to ignore their changing of the rules to encourage more passing, especially down the middle, which of course leads to the impacts they say they are trying to diminish. then they punish the players and coaches for playing football the way it always has been played….

  3. norcalmafia says: Oct 4, 2013 9:06 AM

    Roger Goodell……Rules with an Iron fist…What is this communist Russia now?

  4. tv426 says: Oct 4, 2013 9:24 AM

    It would be very easy for a ref to throw a flag, then look up at the big screen. If he then sees that the helmet was not used, pick up the flag, no foul.

    All too easy, yet the NFL has to make a huge thing of all this and cost teams in the form of unnecessary penalties.

  5. adderal says: Oct 4, 2013 9:26 AM

    on that play he wasn’t early, didn’t ear hole him and stopped a TD. At the same time the receiver was defenseless. Makes it pretty tough on db’s.

  6. jiveturkeygobbler says: Oct 4, 2013 9:31 AM

    I’m confused too, I thought Donte got the shaft on the calls that got him fined.

  7. mavajo says: Oct 4, 2013 9:46 AM

    “It’s vague subjective rules that are too hard to enforce consistently.”


    Yeah…no. Whether you like them or not, the rules are not vague and subjective – they’re actually quite clear and objective. You can’t hit a defenseless receiver in the head or neck. Finit. That’s it. It doesn’t matter whether it was intentional or not. It doesn’t matter whether the hit was “avoidable” or not. The contact is all that matters.

    That’s as clear and objective as it gets. If you have a beef with the rule, fine, that’s your call. But get your facts straight.

  8. true2thegame83 says: Oct 4, 2013 9:56 AM

    It definitely isn’t about coaching, it’s about the ambiguity of the rule and in the fast paced heat of the moment action where it really does seem like if any NFL WR’s neck/head snaps back it’s an automatic flag.

    What are defenders supposed to do when they aim for the chest and the receiver drops his pad level. This is getting ridiculous.

  9. jrazz22 says: Oct 4, 2013 9:57 AM

    And to add to all if this, you have people who have never played the game making idiotic rules.

  10. joshuavkidd says: Oct 4, 2013 9:57 AM

    does the NFL pay you to write these ridiculous articles? No one can understand what is and is not a penalty anymore yet we’re supposed to expect the coaches to teach their players what to do???

  11. kylehealy says: Oct 4, 2013 9:58 AM

    To fine Donte Whitner for that hit was ridiculous. As a defender, what more can he do, let Givens score? He didn’t spear him, leave his feet or lead with his helmet. He slowed down and simply lowered his shoulder, forcing the receiver to make a choice, try to catch a TD and take a shot or let it go. This is FOOTBALL, guys know the risks and they are compensated well for them. I acknowledge the difference between dirty hits vs clean ones, but there was nothing dirty or malicious about that hit and to fine him 21k is pathetic.

  12. basedrum777 says: Oct 4, 2013 10:01 AM

    The problem isn’t with the the coaches not spouting the league’s line of thinking on these hits. Its that these hits have been legal AND ENCOURAGED in all levels of football prior to last year. These are literally hits which were deemed great before this new rule came in. Separate your receiver from the ball and if he goes across the middle make him pay for it. Does no one in the league office remember this? Just make the players sign a waiver that stipulates that they know what they’re getting into on the football field. Then lawsuits can go out the window and we can get back to football. We have standardized cage fighting in the US (sans NY) but can’t have football hits that include a receiver going up and not coming down without being hit? HUH?

  13. crownofthehelmet says: Oct 4, 2013 10:17 AM

    “That resulted in Tomlin and his boss, Art Rooney II, being called to the league office for a meeting with the Commissioner.”

    RG: Art, Mike, please have your players hit less hard, it’s not fair to the other teams.
    MT: Haven’t you held us back enough the past few years with your bs penalties on James Harrison?
    RG: fair enough, just keep Troy on the sidelines and we’ll call it square and fair.

  14. malieckal says: Oct 4, 2013 10:18 AM

    Unintended consequences stem from the first steps to make the game more passing-friendly.

    Remember when CBs could hand-check a little, maybe jostle a receiver in and out of a break, crowd the window as the ball came in?

    These were the good ol’ [not Goodell] days, when points were at a premium. Then all of the above was illegal, seemingly overnight. DBs couldn’t breathe on a receiver without drawing a flag – and of course, only the receiver knew the route being run. The only way to adapt was to play ‘off’ and try to close ground while the ball was in the air, then jar it loose with a rugged hit.

    Well, we all saw what happened – concussion after concussion after concussion. An arms race at DE to crush QBs, which led to a whole new set of rules to protect the guys who threw the ball. Now they can safely stay in the pocket still longer. Then came ‘defenseless’ receivers. Bit by bit, year by year, no more need to run the ball. Why run? Toss a hospital ball over the middle, you’ll get a first down or a yellow hankie.

    ‘Same difference’.

    These rules to ensure scores in the high twenties through forties have utterly failed at keeping the game safe for players. Time was, a CB would stay hip to hip, reach out at the right half-second and knock the ball down with an outstretched hand. Now, it’s play off, launch like a missile,blow him up, and call in the cart. How is that progress?

    Question for fantasy owners who lament the advent of the coming ‘flag football’ era: will you give up the quick fix of high scores and easy 350 yard passing games if it meant saving the sport – and protecting the guys who play it?

    Bring back the handcheck.

  15. ericsalzmandesign says: Oct 4, 2013 10:20 AM

    Perhaps the coaches actually want their players to hit and dislodge the ball from players, increasing their chances to win?

    Winning is the ultimate motive in this game and it will take an incredible amount of time, fines, and suspensions for the players and coaches to change their mindset.

  16. jikkle49 says: Oct 4, 2013 10:51 AM

    Fangio is right.

    Any big hit = flag even if it’s perfectly legal.

    You’re asking defensive players to hit in a small window that can change in a split second if a receiver moves and piling on subjective rules like if the receiver is defenseless or not.

    Since this is all about lawsuit mitigation the NFL needs to just make everyone sign waivers that you accept and understand football is a violent and dangerous sport that could potentially have lifelong health ramifications.

  17. hess97 says: Oct 4, 2013 11:20 AM

    The reason he’s speaking out is its two weeks in a row of penalties/fines for Whitner on clearly shoulder to body hits

  18. hess97 says: Oct 4, 2013 11:26 AM

    Hey Ref. When a player gets hit in the body , his head moves. Thats because his head is attached ti the body. Its science.

  19. thestrategyexpert says: Oct 4, 2013 11:35 AM

    I think the team should be fined and the Owner should have to pay those costs. That way his coaches can only stick around for as long as they are worth it, or they have to have a conversation about docking pay. If the Owner wants to be a chump and keep paying fines for the mistakes his employees make, then let him keep writing those checks. Tell him it’s his problem to figure out how to handle it. But until they get the message there will be this continued confusion and scatterbrained effort to try and keep the game clean and fair and safe.

  20. sparky151 says: Oct 4, 2013 11:46 AM

    Iloka’s fine should be overturned on appeal. He didn’t commit a foul vs Finley. That was the independent, simultaneous judgement of the league’s employees on the spot. The league office imposed a fine after the fact because Finley got a concussion on the play but Iloka did nothing wrong. He didn’t launch himself, target Finley’s head, or otherwise break the rules.

    That’s why multiple officials didn’t throw a flag. If Finley had popped up and played the rest of the game, there would have been no fine. Instead the league seems to be moving toward a strict liability standard where players get fined if the opponent is injured, even if they didn’t do anything wrong.

  21. uplate5301 says: Oct 4, 2013 2:07 PM

    Helmet to helmet is one thing, but when a ball carrier ducks his head into your shoulder (not intentionally… you often cannot control exactly what is happening at the moment of contact), defensive players should NOT be fined. This is a contact sport. In fact, this is a collision sport.

    I didn’t have to worry about people colliding with me and causing concussions in my lifelong profession. I had to worry about people shooting me. And nobody was willing to pay me hundreds of thousands or millions per year to take that risk.

  22. realitycheckbaby says: Oct 4, 2013 2:52 PM

    40 whiners and Pittsburgh Steroids, two classless organizations.

  23. realitycheckbaby says: Oct 4, 2013 2:54 PM

    uplate5301 says: Oct 4, 2013 2:07 PM

    Helmet to helmet is one thing, but when a ball carrier ducks his head into your shoulder (not intentionally… you often cannot control exactly what is happening at the moment of contact), defensive players should NOT be fined. This is a contact sport. In fact, this is a collision sport.

    I didn’t have to worry about people colliding with me and causing concussions in my lifelong profession. I had to worry about people shooting me. And nobody was willing to pay me hundreds of thousands or millions per year to take that risk.


  24. frankyvito says: Oct 4, 2013 6:40 PM

    What’s never made sense to me is how a receiver who at the last second sees he’s about to get hit in the ribs, can duck his head down to ‘defend’ himself yet be a ‘defenseless receiver.’ Also how the NFL’s new version of a clean tackle makes defenders defenseless to head & neck injuries. See Utley, Mike, & Byrd, Dennis. 20 yrs ago their injuries had the NFL singing the exact opposite tune.

  25. cmosiedrum says: Oct 5, 2013 4:15 AM

    The game of “Control” the NFL & Roger Godell are playing is not being received well by the fans, player and as it seems, some coaches. (Please see above comments.)

    And no matter how many one sided articles, like this one above are written, it’s going to be nearly impossible for changes for the benefit of the game are going to happen, unless the owners are going to see addition profit from said changes.

  26. realitycheckbaby says: Oct 7, 2013 5:09 PM

    I’ve lost track – what’s your record now?

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