In the wake of Saturday’s Steelers-Bengals game, some have argued that the helmet-to-helmet hit applied by Pittsburgh linebacker Ryan Shazier to Cincinnati running back Gio Bernard was worse than the hit applied by linebacker Vontaze Burfict to the helmet of Antonio Brown.
It looked worse, to be sure. But it was a legal play, for two reasons.
First, Bernard had the ball long enough to become a runner. As a runner, he wasn’t defenseless. Since he wasn’t defenseless, he could be hit in the head or neck area, and with Shazier’s helmet.
Indeed, the fact that Bernard had the ball long enough to complete the catch and make his loss of possession a fumble means that Bernard had become a runner.
Second, the ban against use of the crown of the helmet doesn’t apply in a bang-bang situation. It requires the person delivering the blow with the crown of the helmet to “line up” the target. While close, that’s not what happened between Bernard and Shazier.
So Shazier rightly wasn’t flagged, and he should be omitted from the coming flurry of fines. Bengals fans may not like that, but it reflects a correct interpretation of the rules.