View Full Version : Bouchette on the Steelers: Hits and Misses

10-24-2010, 09:48 AM
Bouchette on the Steelers: Hits and Misses
So you thought everyone would be tired by now of talking about hits, fines what it means for the NFL. Think again.
Sunday, October 24, 2010
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Jack Ham drives into Cleveland's Brian Sipe -- face first.

Jack Ham made eight Pro Bowls, earned four Super Bowl rings, made the Pro Football Hall of Fame and is considered by many the best outside linebacker ever.

And no one can recall him ever launching into a ball-carrier, he never went head-hunting and he practically never missed a tackle.

So, if the greatest outside linebacker of all time can do it that way, why can't current players? Because the game and the players have changed, Ham said.

"I wasn't 260 pounds making these hits,'' Ham said before boarding a plane to broadcast the Penn State-Minnesota game. "Safeties and linebackers are bigger, faster, stronger and they're going to have bigger collisions. The guys I tackled were 220, guys like me. Now, outside linebackers are 255, 260. I'm not sure the perspective is the same.''

Ham said he tackled in the pros the way he learned to tackle in his native Johnstown while growing up. "You led with your head, face up, led with your facemask face up."

There were two practical reasons Ham was taught to tackle that way since grade school.

"So you don't miss,'' Ham said of one. And the other: "Head down, you can get seriously hurt. You never get hurt with your face up."

Ham said those who attract the most attention these days for vicious hits are those who have the most difficult job avoiding them -- safeties.

"At 25 yards away, you're trying to break up a post or in-route and you're asking a safety to figure out, if the quarterback overthrows the receiver or not. You're taught to drive under a receiver, intercept the ball, or break it up. If the ball flies over his head [and you hit him], everybody wants a flag.

"Those receivers are running toward them, they're running at the safety and there's no way in the world you can say. 'Hit him in the numbers here.' It's impossible."

Ham used the example of the late Sean Taylor of the Washington Redskins.

"He was a linebacker, 230 pounds! Now, he's a 4.4 guy at 230, and there are a lot of safeties like that out there. I don't know how you stop that.

"I'd like to see somebody go back in virtual reality and try to drive on a receiver from the safety position. Some safety is going to get seriously hurt because he hesitates because he doesn't want to get fined $75,000.''
A youngster sees both sides

Here's the other side of things: Mike Wallace, the Steelers' young and oh-so-promising receiver who leads the NFL with an average per catch of 25.1 yards, is not unhappy the league is cracking down on big hits against receivers.

"I like it," Wallace said. "I like the idea -- not to my teammates, I want them to hit hard. I don't want me to get hit hard. I'm kind of in the middle because you don't want to take too much away from football but, at the same time, you want to protect people."

One of those people he'd like to protect is Mike Wallace.

"After football, you want people to be right, have the right functions. You have to protect them because it's bigger than a football game."

Yet Wallace sees it from a defensive player's standpoint, too.

"I don't know what they're supposed to do, especially in a situation like the one with James Harrison. I don't really see what different he could have done on the hit with [Mohamed] Massaquoi. It looked like he was trying to go lower but the guy was falling.

"I don't think guys are out there trying to hit people in the head, doing it purposely. He's just coming off a zone, turning, and he doesn't have time to think, he's just trying to make a tackle. You don't have time to think, 'OK, I have to get down low.' That split second can cost you a touchdown."

Wallace, though, said receivers must do their part to protect themselves, too; what Hines Ward calls sitting in the zone while running your route.

"I see those guys come into the zone," Wallace said, "I fall on the ground rather than keep running through."
View from the press box: Sheriff Goodell has spoken; quit whining and get used to it

Welcome to the new world of NFL defensive players, James Harrison and the rest of you. The league just laid out new working conditions and, whether you and your fans like it or not, that's the way it's going to be from now on. Either play by their rules or pay the price, and the next time that could be a whole lot more if the league issues suspensions as it has threatened to do.

Steelers president Art Rooney is doing his best to warn the NFL that it may be heading down a slippery slope here, but after he talked to Roger Goodell, he received no inclination how the commissioner will proceed on this.

It's Sheriff Goodell's town, and he has vowed to clean it up. Check your big hits at the door. We can all scream about what hypocrites he and his hanging judge, Ray Anderson, are. They push safety while at the same time trying to shove an 18-game schedule through -- and winking when the highlights, even on their own NFL Network, keep the big screens in the living rooms filled with hits such as Harrison's and Meriweather's. Oh, and you can purchase photos of the hits that drew those fines through NFL.com, or even buy videos of them. Their hands may be dirty but they love filling them with greenbacks.

That, however, does not change anything. It's their game and they will rule it as they like.

How will that game look from now on is the question. Maybe it won't look much different, just football without the extra violence these hits provide. Some players won't have to adjust their games because that is not their game. They tackle differently; they approach the game and their job differently. They want to tackle an offensive player, merely stop him from advancing, not necessarily make the highlights shows.

Some players will have to adjust, some won't be able to do so. You play a certain way all your life, how do you adjust at age 32? Much of it is instinct.

But here is how you adjust, for better or for worse. You see a receiver such as Mohamed Massaquoi come over the middle to catch the ball, you either get to the ball before he does and knock it away, or you wrap him up after he catches it, and both of you live to fight another down.

That is what the NFL wants. The league always has wanted more offense anyway and this is just another means to get it -- crack down on the "kill shots" by defensive players. That was the intent of the rule they tightened in March, and Ray Anderson delivered the bad news Tuesday to the NFL's defensive players.

Wide receivers need to fear a little less going over the middle because they now are protected from such hits. At least they know the NFL will enforce the rule -- or stretch it a little -- if they are blasted. Part of the rule, as the league noted Tuesday in its press release about the fines, is to allow the receiver time after he catches the ball to protect himself from a high hit.

Agree or disagree with that rule and its enforcement, but that's how it will be from now on. The way teams, especially teams such as the Steelers, have played defense will hurt them. The Steelers always have been a rugged defense with intimidating hitters such as Harrison and Joey Porter and Greg Lloyd and Lee Flowers and on and on. Their reputation as such and certainly the application altered the games of some opponents. They played within the rules; the trouble now is, no one's certain what those rules are, never mind how to play within them.

The NFL just took away the tool of intimidation, for better or worse. The game has changed throughout the years as rules have been implemented to make it "safer,'' although has anyone yet provided evidence that the game is safer now than it was 30 years ago? Somehow, Lynn Swann and John Stallworth are highly productive members of society despite going over the middle for so many years in the 1970s. But then, Darryl Stingley is not.

One thing not hurt is the popularity of the sport. The NFL continues to set ratings records, even though attendance is on a slight decline this year. The game is a golden goose, and, even when they try to kill it, they don't seem able. Someone, though, should look at what happened to another golden goose, when the leaders of NASCAR opted for "safer".

Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com.

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10297/1097642-66.stm#ixzz13EFsuvAN