When players don’t know the rules, there’s a chance they don’t know the rules because they’re not properly being taught the rules. When the coach doesn’t know the rules, the likelihood of the players not properly being taught the rules increases.
As it relates to Sunday’s controversial late-game call in New Orleans, which wiped out a turnover because 49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks committed a roughing the passer penalty on Saints quarterback Drew Brees, there’s a pretty good chance coach Jim Harbaugh didn’t know the rule.
“Talking to Ahmad, Ahmad didn’t think he hit him in the head,” Harbaugh said after the game.
Ahmad’s recollection was accurate. He didn’t hit Brees in the head. But that’s not the rule.
Rule 12, Section 2, Article 9 sets forth the standards for roughing the passer. “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.” (Emphasis supplied.)
Head or neck area.
It doesn’t matter if Brooks didn’t hit Brees in the head. Referee Tony Corrente determined that Brooks hit Brees in the neck.
A better argument from the 49ers’ perspective would be that the contact began lower than the neck. As it relates to hits with the helmet or facemask, the rulebook specifically states that contact beginning lower on the body but moving up to the head or neck triggers a violation. By omitting “hands, arms or other parts of the body” from that specific twist on the rule, the 49ers could argue that hands and arms don’t fall within the scope of the “sliding up” exception.
To make that argument, however, Harbaugh would have to acknowledge that the neck is forbidden. He hasn’t.
On Monday, Harbaugh reinforced the notion that he doesn’t find fault with Brooks for the penalty.
“Our interpretation was, when we grade a player, if he’s got a penalty we give him a minus, but we did not assign a minus on that play,” Harbaugh told reporters. “That’s our interpretation. . . . I thought he made a great play. And, it didn’t get the result.”
It’s a smart way of criticizing a call without criticizing it. Instead of saying the officials got it wrong, Harbaugh simply said he thinks his guy got it right.
And if the rule is “head” and not “head or neck,” Harbaugh would be right.
But that’s not the rule. If Harbaugh doesn’t know that, how can his players?