Merton Hanks: New rules have players “turning down hits”

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Merton Hanks was an NFL defensive back before he became the guy in charge of issuing fines to NFL defensive backs. And he says there’s no doubt in his mind that those fines have changed the way defensive backs do their jobs.

Hanks, whose title in the league office is Vice President for Football Operations, told the New York Times that there was a player in this season’s Jaguars-Titans game who had a clear shot at a tackle but let the receiver go by and get to the end zone for a touchdown, which was presumably a result of feeling uncertain about whether he had a proper angle to hit the receiver without drawing a flag.

“As a former defensive player, I can’t tell you I’m happy about this,” Hanks said. “The fact of the matter is guys, when they are unsure, they are turning down hits. That’s a paradigm shift in our league. Usually, you make the hit and we’ll figure it out later.”

But Hanks doesn’t seem to feel any sympathy for a player who doesn’t know how to make a hit without getting a penalty.

“That’s on him as a professional. He has to master his technique,” Hanks said.

Ray Anderson, the NFL’s Executive Vice President for Football Operations, said his film study indicates that the new emphasis on protecting defenseless receivers is working.

“Given enough instruction to both players and coaches that certain rules are going to be enforced more rigorously, we were very confident that players and coaches — they are very bright and very skilled — would make the adjustment,” Anderson said. “At this point, we’re actually quite pleased with the progress we’re making.”

46 responses to “Merton Hanks: New rules have players “turning down hits”

  1. I’ve been asking for substantive data proving Goodell’s fines reduce the number and severity of injuries. But I was challenging the commissioner to show fining led to defenders using better and safer technique. It’s not an improvement if defenders just stand there and let receivers score untouched. Good grief.

  2. “That’s on him as a professional. He has to master his technique.”

    Thank you, finally an actual grown-up opinion on this matter. The hits that most fans and players seem loathe to let go of are just sucker punches. Dumb, blunt instruments.

    Football’s a hard, physical sport. But just hitting someone takes very little skill, and is often cowardly. I want to see professionals who can play a sport well. If you can’t master your technique, then why should I want to watch you?

  3. Remember when Mooch (Former Lions Head Coach Steve Mariucci) hyped his team up saying that we don’t play the the games on paper? This is the same way that the rules are legislated to NFL players. “Don’t do this, don’t do that”, but when you are going full speed trying to bring somebody down, things are going much too fast. Too fast to do things perfectly. You might have the player lined up perfectly…then he moves, flinches, twitches, spins, and now he is out of your perfect target area. Where you would have gotten his chest, now you got his back, his leg, his arm, his neck, or his head hits your head.

    This, and the fines are way too high, especially for some players who don’t even make $400K. A $50K penalty for a player that makes $400K is 12.5% of his salary before taxes. You levy the same fine on Suh, or Lamar Woodley (now making $10M a year) and it is a drop in the bucket. This needs to change and I thought that it has needed to change for years now. If I am a player that cannot afford to lose money, but I can’t afford to miss the tackle, either then I probably miss the tackle. The coach may bench you, but he won’t refund you if you make the hit and get fined, either.

  4. “Given enough instruction to both players and coaches that certain rules are going to be enforced more rigorously, we were very confident that players and coaches — they are very bright and very skilled — would make the adjustment,”


    Pretty sure you should get all the refs on the first page first.

    Lets start there.

  5. By the way, I love “paradigm shift” in a football story. I remember reading it in Crichton’s Jurassic Park years ago. I looked it up way back then. But it means a drastic change in thinking or the way of thinking. Merton Hanks used context clues, but still it is interesting to see such a word in a football story. It is actually pronounced (Para DIME).

  6. this league is turning into crap. why don’t we just invite ladies to play too. i swear, just give em flags, and rename it the NFE, like wrestling had to do. bunch a sissies!

  7. Either the league is very ignorant on this issue or they are in denial..because it is clear that the league and the refs dont know what the rule is they use goodells magic 8 ball and make stuff up as they go along

  8. The game is being pussified, look at the rule changes. Goodell has run amok with his fines and because of this the players are afraid to hit somebody. Why dont we increase the roster size from 53 to 106 and let those that start have more rest time, maybe go in on one play every series. That way everyone can play and we wont hurt anybody’s feelings. If they do get hurt or lets call it an ouwee, then we have a staff member read them a story ( Goldilocks and the three bears) or something along those lines while they recoup on the sideline. America in decline, including the sports world. ( Political correctness is the belief that you can pick up a turd by the clean end.)

  9. He must be talking about the play where Clint Session whiffed on Kenny Britt for the long td. Matt Hasselbeck made that fluke throw that looked like it wasn’t going to make it all the way to Britt, so Clint must’ve pulled off to avoid the fine. A couple years ago that wouldn’t have been a touchdown because the receiver would’ve got smashed by the LB, most likely dropping that pass.

  10. How Merton never suffered some career ending neck injury is beyond me.

    “Lead with your neck Merty”

  11. Coach…….yelling at the cornerback, hey Reynolds ! you missed that #$%#ing tackle and you cost us the game. I’m sorry coach but the only way I could have hit him from that particular angle I might have cracked his ribs and I would have been fined . The new NFLW ( National Football League of Wussies ) !

  12. The point was excellently made earlier how the game isn’t played on paper. Things happen far too quickly on the actual field of play for perfect tackles to be made. And why should the defenders concede a completion for the sake of making a nice form tackle?? That ruins the competitiveness of the game itself. Big hits are going to happen, incidental h2h contact is also going to happen. Because both happen, doesn’t mean that a player committed a “dirty hit”. when defenders are literally scared to hit receivers for fear of getting fined, that’s how you know you have a problem with the NFL legislative body

  13. These newer rules regarding hits are ridiculous, it totally devalues an enormous facet of football and it isnt fair to the players.

    These guys’ bodies are traveling at top speed to try to make a play and the NFL higher ups are demanding that the players make decisions whether or not to hit someone and exactly how to to it in fractions of a second’s time….its so obnoxiously unreasonable.

    These guys know what they signed up for, so deal with it. A big hit in football happens and so do injuries and the NFL needs to stop babying these guys and let them play football.

  14. Good story and all but I wish they would show a video of him doin the penguin dance! Referenced above as the chicken dance.

  15. “That’s on him as a professional. He has to master his technique,” Hanks said.

    this is the essential sentences of the article. i don’t care if its in pee-wees, high school, college or at the professional level, at some point these kids are going to have to learn the proper way to tackle to assure three things: 1) they don’t hurt the person they are trying to tackle 2) they don’t hurt themselves 3) they make the tackle. there are very few people, even at the nfl level, that make a tackle properly and it bugs the crap out of me.

  16. I agree with pretty much what everyone above has said. But how come offensive players aren’t fined? Last week during the Pats game, both Charger running backs, Matthews and Tolbert, lower their head and use their helmet as a weapon. One caused a concussion on a defensive player. So why are there no fines for offensive players using or leading with their helmets?

  17. If I were a coach I’d be pissed as hell at a player of mine if he let an opponent score a touchdown rather than risk a penalty. Make the tackle and then worry about it. I’m not saying anyone should purposely try to hurt another player. But let him score a touchdown rather than risk a penalty? I don’t think so.

  18. of course they are happy. record offensive numbers. more touchdowns, passing yards, and horrible calls against the defense. refs can’t decide when a penalty should or shouldn’t be called, so they just throw the flag to “be safe”.

  19. “It is actually pronounced (Para DIME).”

    Believe it or not- this is only a revelation to those of us here who correctly stress the first syllable and pronounce it “PAR- a-dime”.

  20. This is pathetic. Everyone knows a ball carriers natural reaction to contact is to lower their heads to brace for impact.

    whats next, running backs being fined for lowering their heads and spearing tacklers.

    I like the NFL when Tagliabue ran the show better.

  21. There is no pass defense allowed in the NFL anymore!! Therefore the league should be renamed to NFFL – National Fake Football League!!

    If fans want a competitive league back we may have to organize a boycott. Stop buying tickets or subscribing to Sunday Ticket. It’s the only way the league will listen to the fans!

  22. It’s good to see a nuanced, intelligent opinion from someone who played the game. Merton Hanks is right. Guys need to master their technique. If you think Dunta Robinson-style missile attacks with your arms at your sides are proper technique and that outlawing them is “pussifying the game”, you’re simply wrong.

  23. If you hit a ball carrier without using your arms and wrapping him up, and he falls to the ground is it ruled a tackle? Obviously yes. So let’s drop all this “he didn’t use proper technique” BS.
    There are many a strong legged running back where we are told over and over,”you better not try to use an arm tackle on this guy or he will run right out of the tackle.”
    How amy times today will we hear, “you better hit this guy low if you want to bring him down” or “you better hit this guy high.”

    And of course we will hear how someone hit a player and jarred the ball lose causing the fumble or the incomplete pass. And tha will not happen we proper tackling technique where the ball carrier is wrapped up.


    Knock the ball carrier to the ground and move to the next play.

  24. I hate that these rules are turning guys into Asante Samuel and Antonio Cromartie.
    I have no issue with doing all it takes to remove avoidable helmet to helmet hits (wish they gave the defensive players the same courtesy) and things like that but CRIKEY, Carter makes a TEXTBOOK sack vs SD last week and he’s fined for using the hairline of the helmet to the chest or some idiocy, and driving the QB to the ground (which he did not do IMO, he didn’t put his full weight on Rivers). Roman Harper, ditto vs Cutler. How the bleep are guys supposed to sack a QB???? Think about the geometry involved in the angle while a guy is running by you and adjust your original angle on the fly? Look at what happened to Kiwauka vs Vince Young a few years back if you want an earlier example of a guy blatantly pulling away from a full on tackle because he was fearful of a fine or penalty. What they need to do is anytime a guy is has an arm around a QB, play is dead, it’s a sack because the QB is in the grasp. Some of the teams with guys who are better outside the pocket than they are as pure passers will get mad and protest and maybe everything can go back to normal again.

  25. I don’t like the new basketball-in-cleats-and-defense-no-longer-wins-championships NFL, either.

    But the notion that not being able to launch and lead w/ the helmet is freezing these guys in their tracks is bogus.

    They should be wrapping guys up and bringing them down. Period.

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