Late For Work 8/24: Why Terrell Suggs' Hit Was Not Illegal Or Cheap

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Why Suggs' Hit Was Not Illegal Or Cheap

Was outside linebacker Terrell Suggs' hit on quarterback Sam Bradford's knee illegal? And was it cheap?

No and no.

It was legal despite the yellow flag penalizing Suggs for roughing the passer, and was not cheap despite Eagles tackle Jason Peters' accusations.

(Although, the second "no" is subjective. Only Suggs really knows whether he intended to target Bradford's knee or just tried to make a football play in the heat of the moment during a fast-paced game. More on that later.)

Here's something that needs to be made very clear: passers and runners are treated differently in the NFL rule book. Passers get special protections, including restrictions on defenders hitting their knees and the "one-step" rule. Runners, however, are only protected under normal unnecessary roughness rules, which do not include low hits.

Distinguishing between when a quarterback is a runner or passer can be murky, which is why NFL Vice President of Officiating Dean Blandino sent a video clarifying the rule specifically for read-option quarterbacks in 2013.

"[On read-option fakes], he is considered a runner at that point," said Blandino, per ESPN's Jamison Hensley. "Just like a running back who has the football, defenders can hit him. He is not presenting a passing posture."

A quarterback also has to be "obviously out of the play" in order not to be considered a runner. Part of the purpose of the read-option is to disguise who the runner/thrower could be, and Bradford could have emerged with the ball on the play in question, just like he did on the same play at the beginning of the drive. Nothing about read-option is "obvious."

"If a team is going to try to confuse defenders regarding who actually has the ball, defenders shouldn't be punished for guessing wrong," wrote ProFootballTalk.com's Mike Florio.

Added Hensley: "Suggs was doing his job on the play. … It's not his responsibility to pull up and wait to see if Bradford has the ball or not. And, if Suggs bites on a fake to the running back, that allows Bradford to escape the pocket for a big play by either running with the ball or throwing it."

The Eagles put Bradford's twice surgically-repaired knee at risk every time they run the read-option with their quarterback.

Daily News NFL Columnist Paul Domowitch recalled a conversation he had with Head Coach John Harbaugh just before the Ravens' matchup against 49ers read-option quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Harbaugh "readily acknowledged" his defense tried to hit Kaepernick every time he ran the zone-read so the 49ers would stop putting him a risk.

"The strategy is perfectly legal," wrote Domowitch. "The bottom line is, if [Eagles Head Coach Chip] Kelly is going to continue to run the zone-read, which obviously is a given, then Bradford had better be prepared for more hits like the one Saturday night. Because the Ravens hardly are the only team in the league that feel the best way to dissuade a team from running the zone-read is to make them fear for the safety of their franchise quarterback."

So the hit was legal. Even Former Vice President of NFL Officiating Mike Pereira made that clear. And hitting Bradford may have even been Suggs' assignment within the defense.

Did he have to go low? Nobody but Suggs knows his intent. Everyone else can only speculate.

Two former Super Bowl champions, Mark Schlereth and Shannon Sharpe, vehemently argued with Eagles fans on social media about whether the hit was dirty.

"I love how everyone can judge [the] intent of Suggs. [The] game is played at real speed not in slow motion," Schlereth tweeted. "I don't see intent to injure … I see a guy trying to make a football play."

Sharpe was asked whether he'd consider it dirty if Suggs had hit him low during his career. Sharpe replied on Twitter: "Not if I'm considered a runner. … Suggs trying to get the qb dwn anyway he can. Rightfully so."

We'll give the last word to one of Bradford's teammates, center Jason Kelce.

"I'm sure that's something they're taught, to tackle the quarterback out of the read-option," Kelce said. "I don't think it was particularly dirty for him to hit the quarterback. I just thought it was a little weird that he went right after the knee area. But looking back on it, I don't think it was anything malicious. I just think that he was playing the game."

Ravens May Need To Make Roster Moves This Week

One might be able to chalk Saturday's night's ugly blowout loss up to a fluke night. At the very least, it's a learning moment that might humble the team and make them better going forward.

But if the play wasn't concerning, the injuries certainly are, at least for the short-term, and especially on the offensive line. The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec thinks the Ravens may need to turn to the street to get some more bodies in practice to take reps.

The offensive line took the biggest hit. Six linemen didn't play in the game in Philadelphia, and three* *more were nursing injuries by the end of it.

"I don't think I've ever seen where we've been down that many guys," guard Marshal Yanda told reporters after the game. "Obviously, injuries are part of it, but we're down right now. A lot of guys."

When starters go down, at least the bright side usually is that your backups get valuable experience with increased snaps. But that can't happen when the backups go down* *too.

"Injuries … prevented the Ravens' top backups from playing valuable snaps Saturday night," wrote The Sun's Jon Meoli. "With the regular season creeping closer, offensive line depth is being put under the type of strain that could cripple it were it not for the extra players afforded by a 90-man training camp roster."

Walker: Ravens Kick Returner May Not Be On Roster

The good news is the Ravens got to evaluate their candidates for the kick returner job because they actually got to return some kicks against the Eagles, unlike against the Saints. 

The bad news is coaches may not have liked what they saw.

The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker wonders if this season's kicker returner is even on the roster.

"Asa Jackson took the opening kick again, but it's not clear the reserve cornerback brings the kind of explosion the Ravens want from a lead returner," wrote Walker. "He couldn't find room to accelerate against the Eagles. Rookie DeAndre Carter, meanwhile, mishandled his first return attempt, though at least he recovered the ball. Carter shook his fist in anger afterward, realizing he'd squandered an opportunity."

That said, Michael Campanaro is one of the leading candidates and didn't play Saturday night for undisclosed reasons. He has yet to make an impression during preseason games and cannot be ruled out.

"It's difficult and probably unfair to judge these guys on such small samples," wrote Walker. "But the Ravens can't be happy no one has jumped to the front in the competition to replace Jacoby Jones. Don't be surprised if Ozzie Newsome goes looking for a new option as the talent market opens up the week before the opener."

Stock Up, Stock Down After Eagles Week

The time is soon approaching for roster cuts, and several players made a case for a spot this week, while several others didn't.

Here is CSNBaltimore.com's Bo Smolka's stock up, stock down report.

Rising

LB Arthur Brown: "The third-year linebacker appeared to leap-frog Zach Orr as a No. 2 inside linebacker, and for a while he played along C.J. Mosley and other starters. … Special teams has been a weakness of his; it's one major reason Orr played so much more than Brown last season."

RB Terrence Magee: "With Lorenzo Taliaferro banged up in an early collision, Magee played perhaps more than expected and finished with 11 carries for a team-high 44 yards."

WR Darren Waller:  "The receiver had a strong week of camp in Philadelphia, and he hauled in the Ravens' first touchdown on a 7-yard wide receiver screen. … He showed he could be a red zone target."

Falling

WR DeAndre Carter: "Carter had two passes go off his hands, although one would have been an outstanding grab. He also dropped a kickoff return for the second straight week. That is not how to win a roster spot."

LB Zach Orr: "This week it was Arthur Brown, not Orr, running at inside linebacker with the second-team defense. Orr finished with three tackles but also was called for a penalty. And Orr was among the players who overran the play, then missed a tackle, on the Eagles' punt return touchdown."

CB Quinton Pointer: "Pointer ran with the top two units at times early in camp, and started the preseason opener against the Saints. But in Philadelphia, he was basically relegated to mop-up duty. Rashaan Melvin started opposite Jimmy Smith with Lardarius Webb sidelined, and Kyle Arrington, Asa Jackson, rookie Tray Walker and Cassius Vaughn all appeared to get more extended looks than Pointer, who finished with two tackles."

Quick Hits

  • "I side with Suggs, who dove at Bradford because he wasn't sure if Bradford was going to hand off or keep a read-option-appearing play in Saturday night's Ravens-Eagles game," wrote Peter King. "Suggs said if you're going to call such a play for a quarterback with ACL reconstructions the past two seasons, you do it at your own peril. I absolutely agree with Suggs. Chip Kelly shouldn't be putting Bradford in such a position to be hit violently anyway—and certainly not in a dumb preseason game. … Whether Suggs had malice on the play, I don't know. I don't know why he would. But I don't know how Suggs said he could have hit him harder. He lunged quite hard into Bradford's knee." – TheMMQB.com
  • "I didn't read too much into the joint practices where the offense looked sloppy and punchless and the defense struggled to stop the Eagles," wrote Zrebiec. "But this was a continuation of that, with the Eagles getting whatever they wanted and the Ravens faltering in all three phases. It's nowhere near time to press the panic button, but I'd imagine the players won't have a lot of fun at practice and in film sessions this week. It doesn't matter that it's the preseason. There's nothing that miffs John Harbaugh more than undisciplined and uninspired play." [The Baltimore Sun]
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