Saturday, July 12, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

John Smallwood: With new rules, it's no longer your father's NFL

Colts receiver Austin Collie is carted off the field after controversial hit in second quarter.
Colts receiver Austin Collie is carted off the field after controversial hit in second quarter. YONG KIM / Staff photographer
Colts receiver Austin Collie is carted off the field after controversial hit in second quarter. Gallery: Eagles 26, Colts 24

YOU DO WANT TO err on the side of caution.

You don't want to see a player taken off the field on a stretcher the way Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Austin Collie was yesterday.

You never want to say a rule has gone too far when its intent is to protect players.

But, honestly, if the chain of events that led to Collie's injury was illegal, then what the Eagles and Colts played at Lincoln Financial Field was not the product advertised by the National Football League.

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  • The rule penalizing a tackler for hitting a defenseless receiver is not a bad one.

    Since it is a judgment call by the officials, there are going to be some borderline decisions that can be interpreted differently.

    Still, if what happened with Collie is eliminated from the NFL then this game has been fundamentally changed.

    It's not football - at least not the high-collision, sanctioned and controlled violence that has entertained billions of fans for more than a century.

    Plays used to end with a tackle. Now, the play isn't over until you see whether or not a tackle is a legal one.

    It seems like every hit harder than an arm swipe or a shove out of bounds is under official scrutiny.

    In this case, Eagles rookie safety Kurt Coleman was penalized for hitting a defenseless receiver (Collie).

    I have to disagree.

    Collie stretched to catch a pass for Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.

    Collie got his hands on it and took at least two steps before Eagles strong safety Quintin Mikell hit him with his shoulder.

    The force of Mikell's hit drove Collie's helmet into the helmet of Coleman, who was closing in to finish off a tackle.

    In the concussion-sensitive world that is now the NFL, Coleman will likely be fined.

    "Well, if [Collie] is completing the catch, his second foot is not down yet or it's just down, we still give the defenseless receiver protection," said referee Carl Cheffers. "So, if it is a bang-bang type play, with his second foot coming down, he still gets protection on that play.

    "The fact of the matter is that the ball was incomplete. So, [Collie] has protection throughout the entire process on that play because we don't have a completion."

    The fact of the matter was that if Mikell had not hit Collie and jarred the ball loose, he would have likely made a clean catch.

    Collie had made a movement to secure the ball with two hands to his stomach just before Mikell hit him.

    How does a receiver have the awareness to secure the ball because of an impending hit but still be defenseless?

    "At no time did [Collie] have possession and become a runner," Cheffers said, "to where he would have transitioned out of being a defenseless receiver."

    I'm not going to focus on the inconsistency in the officials' statement. I don't blame the officials because they've been placed in the impossible position of making split-second decisions on the legality of hits when things are moving at 50 mph.

    Things are just swaying too far in the NFL.

    The move to pay closer attention to players' safety is well-intentioned, but the league's edict to sanitize tackling is having the unwelcome intent of outlawing any hit harder than a shove.

    I'm not a big fan of excessive violence in sports. I don't go to a football game to see a player get knocked into next Tuesday, even by a clean hit. I think injured players should think long and hard about their futures before returning to the field.

    But I know that hits, sometimes really hard hits, are a part of this game.

    It doesn't mean you have to have bloodlust to enjoy a hard-hitting football game.

    It is not a conflicting viewpoint to hope that no player gets hurt yet enjoy seeing a guy get flattened by a hit that is within the rules of the game.

    I understand there are certain types of hits that need to be outlawed. The size and speed of the players make certain types of contact too dangerous.

    Still, if this is going to remain football the league needs to rethink what it is doing.

    It can't keep emasculating the art of tackling to the point that it is starting to ruin the product people pay to see.

    The essence of football is that one team tries to physically stop the other team from moving in a certain direction.

    That point/counterpoint of physical contact will inevitably result in hard hits and, unfortunately, injury.

    The hit that laid out Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson 3 weeks ago, initiated the recent scrutiny on hitting receivers.

    His thoughts should be heard.

    "I was just curious," Jackson said. "They said it was unnecessary roughness, but [Collie] was hit in the shoulder.

    "I never wish anybody to get hurt, especially with me playing the same position and being unconscious on the field. But this is football. Don't take this ruling and try to change football."

    The current crackdown is getting dangerously close to eliminating the "F" from the NFL.

    Send e-mail to

    smallwj@phillynews.com.

    For recent columns, go to

    http://go.philly.com/smallwood.

    John Smallwood Daily News Sports Columnist
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