Hits on defenseless player could become reviewable by replay


Four years ago, the NFL became more vigilant regarding the rules against hits to the head and neck area of defenseless players.  Which made NFL officials more willing to throw the flag when a helmet-to-helmet hit occurs on a player at a time when a helmet-to-helmet hit is prohibited.

The potential consequences of instructing officials to err on the side of protecting players (the league office has since abandoned that verbiage) include 15 yards of field position being sacrificed and, in the case of Sunday night’s Patriots-Chargers games, a defensive touchdown coming off the board. As a result, the question of whether an illegal hit has been applied to a defenseless player should be one of the plays eligible for replay review.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, it could be. Soon. The question is expected to be placed on the Competition Committee’s offseason agenda, which could culminate in a rule change being proposed to owners for the annual meetings in March. While a change may not happen in 2015, there’s a sense that it’s inevitable replay will be expanded at some point in the not-too-distant future to include these plays.

But that doesn’t mean plays like New England cornerback Brandon Browner’s hit on Chargers tight end Ladarius Green would be overturned. The standard for changing rulings on the field remains “indisputable visual evidence.” As the source explained it, the Browner hit would not have satisfied the standard because the replay did not include indisputable visual evidence that Browner completely avoided hitting Green in the head and neck area.

So maybe the point here is that, even if replay will be used in the future, the officials need to do a better job of identifying in real time whether a defenseless player has been struck in the head or neck.

61 responses to “Hits on defenseless player could become reviewable by replay

  1. The fact of the matter is that they’re calling clean hits “hits on defenseless players” and “leading with the head/”

    What they’re really saying is “hitting too hard.”

    Football as we know it is over, folks.

  2. B.B. still bringin the BOOM!


    Some of these rules are way too technical. Even if B.B. grazed/barely made any contact with the helmet, the spirit of the rule is that they don’t want head hunting. It is obvious he wasn’t head hunting cuz if he was he would have decapitated the fella.

  3. Please someone smarter than me tell me what a defenseless player is?

    On the Browner hit, it seemed like he took 3 steps after contact with the ball but he bobbled it so his hands were still out streatched.

  4. About time. Now if we could only find some refs that would be able to decipher the replay properly without blowing it even after a video review.

  5. Even the Announcers who are Def not PATS supporters…threw the BS flag on the refs for that one..it was shoulder to shoulder,,PERIOD…

  6. The definition of “defenseless” is going to be key to this issue, not some vague definition left open to scrutiny and open interpretation.

  7. The fact of the matter is that they’re calling clean hits “hits on defenseless players” and “leading with the head/”

    What they’re really saying is “hitting too hard.”

    Football as we know it is over, folks.


    Personally hope it means the era of “Hurtling your body like a rocket at the other player instead of just tackling them” is over.

  8. All penalties should be challengeable, such as hits on defenseless players or PI’s, those are hhhuuggeee penalty calls and it seems like there are always a couple teams who gets completely screwed over especially the “phantom” PI calls that end up being a 30+ yard penalty and the other team gets a cheesy TD.

    I know the refs don’t determine games but honestly there comes a time when you wonder “what if this one call never happened” that actually played a huge part of a tight game?

  9. If that wasn’t a clean hit, then we need to change the rules so that, while a player is “defenseless,” he is down upon any touch by an opposing player. Nobody wants that, but what in the heck is BB supposed to do in that situation? You can see that he purposely re-positioned his body so that he was not going helmet-to-helmet.

  10. These plays should definitely be reviewable. I like the move away from ‘leading with the helmet,’ but the ‘defenseless receiver’ thing is stupid. Think you’re going to get hit? Then don’t try to catch the ball and get out of the way. It’s called defense.

  11. Someone said the announcers weren’t Pats fans… seriously? The entire game sounded like a Pats love fest. Sure, it was possibly a bad call (though not the worst “defenseless receiver” call ever made, but stop with the “even announcers who hate us agree” garbage. I don’t think there’s any team, owner, and coach more beloved my the national media. Heck, all it took was the pats possibly getting the wrong end of the stick this time for experts to clamor for a rule change. But if it is easier for you to enjoy the game thinking everyone hates your team, then more power to you.

  12. Why not just give each team 2 more flags per half that they can use for whatever reason they choose, be it missed or incorrect penalties, or anything else they want? Make incorrect usages of the flags cost them timeouts.

    A missed measly 5-yard penalty on a team that is down 7 points and is moving with 3 minutes left on 3rd and 2 that should have put them at 3rd and 7, instead gives them a first down IS JUST AS IMPORTANT AS REVEIWING EVERY SCORING PLAY.

  13. Please someone smarter than me tell me what a defenseless player is?

    A defenseless player, in my opinion, is one who has his attention focused on a football act other than avoiding the hit.

    I’m okay with taking the vicious hits out of the game, but I think it’s garbage to fine them for it. I don’t understand the fines unless the guy is a multiple offender on blatant head shots.

  14. after watching a ref claim there was clear indisputable evidence that Travis Kelce not only fumbled, didn’t recover, but that the ball was also recovered by the opposing team….no

    these refs need to be held accountable. I don’t want them having even more influence over the game. things happen in the moment and that is how it is. but you leave far too much open to interpretation when replay is supposed to only be something that you cite when it gives you clear evidence.

  15. Just another tool for making sure calls don’t go against the ‘elite’ teams of the league.

  16. The biggest problem with the hit referenced here is that he “Launched” and left his feet to apply a crushing blow and you cannot tell me that that is not a penalty. Hopefully he keeps it up and breaks his own neck!

  17. Evolution of the game. How many years 10, 15 or 20 until they put little flags on the players sides & avoid all these dangerous tackles?

  18. The Browner hit was only “defenseless” because receiver bobbled ball excessively. It wasn ‘t a dirty high hit or a low hit. When a receiver puts himself in a position like that, defensive player should get some lattitude.

  19. The no-brainer penalty to review is offside/false start. There is no judgement involved. It’s clear cut on review, but it’s not reviewable. Stupid.

  20. I’m not sure on these “announcers” being favored one way or another. Collinsworth sucks and is always oozing over whichever team happens to be in the lead, and kept saying the hit was “helmet to helmet” even though it clearly wasn’t. Michaels is half the man he was when Madden was with him.

    But on topic – as someone mentioned that ball was being bobbled by the receiver for several steps. Whats a defensive player supposed to do while in momentum? Shift away from the receiver and take a dive so the receiver can complete the catch? Stand still until a receiver makes a catch and then try to catch and tackle him? Absurd.

    That hit was shoulder pad to shoulder pad and one of the best Browner has probably ever delivered. That flag flew because Green was down from hard impact. If Green immediately gets up from that hit and starts chasing McCourty down the field, there isn’t a flag tossed.

    Regardless, I guarantee Belichick is happy the way it turned out; the receivers Browner faces from here on out will be constantly hearing footsteps.

  21. The NFL wanted Browner to allow the receiver to catch the ball before any attempt to tackle or dislodge the ball. This is a way to enhance offense and scoring.

  22. At this point, everything needs to be reviewable.

    Bad calls affect games, and since the NFL doesn’t want to have full-time officials, they should at least let the coaches have the ability to challenge anything, at any time.

    Eliminate what “can’t” be reviewed, and dump the “inside of 2:00” rules.

    Coaches would still only have 2, maybe a max of 3 challenges a game. They would still have to use them wisely.

    Wouldn’t slow the game down any more than it is now, and would make the game more fair.

  23. Following up, if you watch the replays closely you can see why Green was bobbling the ball – his eyes were locked on Browner as Browner approached him. So technically by the rules, he isn’t even considered a defenseless receiver:

    Rule 12, section 2, article 7 (a) and (b) discusses hits on defenseless players:

    (a) Players in a defenseless posture are:

    A receiver attempting to catch a pass; or who has completed a catch and has not had time to protect himself or has not clearly become a runner. If the receiver/runner is capable of avoiding or warding off the impending contact of an opponent, he is no longer a defenseless player.

  24. Kelce DID fumble. Even the commentators who originally thought he did not fumble, in fact they just about swore he didn’t fumble, changed their minds later. They showed a clip of the ball clearly coming out of his grasp while he was on his feet.

    I admit I am a biased Chargers fan, and I wanted the Chiefs to lose that game for obvious reasons, but that was the correct call. You just have to have the desire and courage to want to find the clip that shows he fumbled instead of being a homer and blaming the refs.

  25. Say what you will, but the type of hit that Brandon Browner put on Ladarius Green is a thing of the past. Belichick can teach players all day, but those are the types of plays that are of concern in head injuries. Browner could have hit him in the body & accomplished the same thing in terms of the incompletion. As a tall player, he needs to lower his strike zone. You can’t have it both ways, with all the concern over head injuries you can’t tee off on a defenceless player. Get over it, the game will survive without destroying another player:) I watched that play many times, he hit him in the shoulder but there was likely some head contact as well.

  26. nfella says: Dec 10, 2014 7:04 PM

    Following up, if you watch the replays closely you can see why Green was bobbling the ball – his eyes were locked on Browner as Browner approached him. So technically by the rules, he isn’t even considered a defenseless receiver:

    Rule 12, section 2, article 7 (a) and (b) discusses hits on defenseless players:

    (a) Players in a defenseless posture are:

    A receiver attempting to catch a pass; or who has completed a catch and has not had time to protect himself or has not clearly become a runner. If the receiver/runner is capable of avoiding or warding off the impending contact of an opponent, he is no longer a defenseless player.

    Not sure how you came to that conclusion. He had not caught the ball, and had not attained a position to defend himself from the hit. Hence he was a defenseless receiver. In addition, Browner’s shoulder clearly impacted the lower part of the receivers facemask, shoving it into his face. This is also a violation and is listed in a part of the same rule you didn’t post.

    You may not like the rule, but the his was clearly a violation of 2 aspects of the rule, and was called properly.

  27. A lot of people keep mentioning the “defenseless player” without really knowing exactly what the rule says. To be honest, I did not know until I recently looked it up.

    First, Rule 12, Section 1, Article 9a lays out who is considered defenseless, and yes, I would say that Ladarius Green qualified under those definitions (number 2), HOWEVER, you also MUST hit them illegally as per the next section of the rule for it to be a penalty.

    Rule 12, Section 1, Article 9b states: “Prohibited contact against a player who is in a defenseless posture is: 1. Forcibly hitting the defenseless player’s head or neck area with the helmet, facemask, forearm, or shoulder, regardless of whether the defensive player also uses his arms to tackle the defenseless player by encircling or grasping him; and 2. Lowering the head and making forcible contact with the top/crown or forehead/”hairline” parts of the helmet against any part of the defenseless player’s body” (incidental contact is also not a penalty per the next line in the rule book).

    It is hard to say that Browner violated this since he did not go after the guy’s head or neck area, and he certainly did not lower his head and use the crown of his helmet.

    There is a reason the ref did not say “defenseless receiver” when he called out the penalty, but said only “helmet to helmet contact”, and that is because Browner did not hit Green illegally under the defenseless receiver rule.

    You can find all this by Googling “nfl defenseless receiver rule”, and it is the first link, which is a PDF file.

  28. Can’t wait til this league folds and a real football league rises from the ashes.


  29. Dont all defensive interference and penalties against the pass (holding/illegal contact/etc) have the chance of taking a td off the board? If your going to make defenseless recievers reviewable why not make the rest reviewable? Seems strange to make such a strong statement that these calls matter so much when there are a whole range of calls that aren’t reviewable but just as damaging for the defense.

  30. Browner was in front of him, so Green knew he is coming in for a hit/tackle. If you cannot defend yourself, then don’t go for those crazy catches. Looks another one of those rules tailored for Payton. Remember the Face Guarding flag against the Pats, that allow the Colts to win….

  31. They are doing their damndest to make sure this call comes out looking like the right one. Seems like a lot of effort to avoid saying “yeah, we screwed up”. Next we’re going to hear from congress. They’re not doing much anyway.

  32. Browner wrecked that dude, but it was a completely clean shoulder-to-shoulder hit.. if you don’t want to be subjected to that, trade in your helmet & hefty paycheck for some soccer shorts.. Ronnie Lott wouldn’t last two weeks in this new sissy league

  33. Kruger sacked Luck on third down & led with his hands. Of course the refs penalized the Browns 15 yards & gave the Colts a first down.

  34. How about implementing a rule similar to NCAA where players automatically get ejected for targeting? They automatically review it and can overturn the ejection but the penalty stands. But if the ejection stands, then they’re out the rest of the game and the first half of the next game if it occurs in the 2nd half.

  35. it’s simple…..Don’t throw the daw-gone flag every sing time u see a big hit! They kill me when they do that smh. Tell the players how to hit, they do it correctly? and still get flagged.

  36. I, like anyone who isn’t a loser hate the Patriots. Browner’s hit was clean. It made me jump out of my seat. That is the physical competition that I watch to see, not a bunch of peter pans in dresses wearing pink.

    If they ever wanted to “get the call right” it would be this way from the beginning. Instead it was about pretending to care about the brain damage they have always known was happening and pretended to be ignorant of for decades.

    The only reason they are pretending to care is to keep their claws on their coins. Hence the “class action suit” where all the ex players were offered a few pennies each and no one could ever sue them again.

    Meanwhile, if they actually cared about the players’ brains like they pretend they would put padding on the OUTSIDE of the helmets, to keep players from slamming their brains into the side of their skulls at such force.

  37. That Kruger penalty helped greatly in the Browns losing the game.
    Hawkins gets hit before the ball arrives, no penalty costing the Browns a big gain for first down.

    Then the REFS start to throw flags on Cleveland near the end of the game to help the Colts score.
    Makes you wonder what is up in the NFL!!!

  38. I’m a a jets fan I no but I see all the pats haters if your team had a chance to have Brady to play for there team it would be different and as spy gate fun sure they got caught and you no about 25 teams ran and threw there tapes away parcels was the best at taping read hes book so as much as we like to see the pats lose I love the way they play

  39. There was a good screen shot of Belichick after that play where you could read his lips. He summed it up perfectly.

  40. Green is 6’6″ for fs sake. Browner set him up to blow him up and definitely aimed high. as said earlier this kind of hit is a thing of the past and should have been outlawed after Darryl Stingley got paralyzed. don’t aim high, don’t lead with your forearm, let’s see you wrap and tackle. I don’t need to see another CB lying in wait on a crossing pattern, there’s no glory in that kind of hit.

  41. Browns Kruger got tagged for roughing Luck last Sunday and it was a complete bs call/flag. Replay shows Kruger leading with his hands, his HANDS!! for crying out loud to the chest of Luck but flags flew all over because he hit a future Brady type QB. OMG! don’t tap Andrew Luck favorite NFL.com child too hard. Put a pink tutu on Luck then. If hitting a QB with your hands to the chest is a personal foul then might as well be flag football. That bs penalty helped the Colts win along with another crazy PI call. Think its rigged by refs sometimes.

  42. That hit on Luck by Kruger was a horrible call. Yes, Kruger did have his head down, but he hit Luck with his hands, not his head.

    Will this new replay be used to review bad calls, or to add more penalties to the game?

  43. they should be able to review hits on the QB. Sick of seeing good defensive plays nulled because of a ref being over cautious with a QB.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.