What is a defenseless receiver? A comparison of hits.

This season the NFL has taken a very strong stand on player safety.  As a result of this we have seen more penalties called for hits on a “defenseless receiver”.  But what exactly is a defenseless receiver?  I’m not sure that NFL officials even know.  Here we will look at several plays from the 2010 season.  Some were penalized, some were not.  Some plays that looked like clean hits were penalized, while others that were obviously dirty and malicious, were not.  Keep in mind that the NFL has stated that a hit doesn’t have to be “helmet to helmet” to be a penalty.  If a defender launches at a receiver while that receiver is “defenseless,”  it is a penalty.

After the break we will examine several hits and compare them, and see how inconsistently these calls are being made.

The first hit comes from the week 9 game between the Eagles and Colts.  I chose this play because to me it seemed pretty obvious that this was a clean hit.  Collie catches the ball, has time to tuck it away and take 3 steps before being hit simultaneously by two Eagles defenders.  As you can see on the video, neither defender lead with his helmet, or launched his body into the air to make the hit.  Yet this was penalized and eagles safety Kurt Coleman was fined.  Badcallsfootball.com Readers agreed it was a bad call.

This next hit comes from the week 13 game between the Ravens and the Steelers. As you can clearly see in the video, Ravens defender Jameel McClain launches his helmet into Miller’s. Clearly an illegal, dangerous, and intentional hit. Heath Miller was knocked out on the play and suffered a concussion. Officials did not throw a flag on the play. The NFL later admitted that this should have been a penalty.  Badcallsfootball.com readers again agreed that this was a bad call.

This last hit is from the 2010 wildcard playoff game between the Packers and Eagles.  This play happened with less than one minute left in the fourth quarter and could have totally changed the outcome of the game if it were called differently.  You can see the play here, about 7:25 into the video. Eagles tight end Brent Celek went up for a pass and was hit hard by packers safety Nick Collins.  It appears that Collins not only launched his body like a missile into Celek, but he also lead with his helmet.  Both of those things alone are enough to draw a flag according to what NFL officials have been telling us all year, but in this case Collins got away with one and was not penalized.  Officials have told us all year that if a defender launches his body like a missile, and leads with his helmet, that it is a penalty.  It doesn’t matter if the defenders helmet hits the receiver’s helmet or not.  A defender cannot launch his body like a missile into a defenseless receiver.  I don’t know how anyone could say that Celek was not defenseless in this situation.

Obviously this non-call had a huge affect on the outcome of the game.  If this hit was penalized it would have given the Eagles a first and ten from deep inside Packers territory and the clock stopped.  Instead there was no flag on the play and Michael Vick threw an interception on the next play that ended the game.

These three plays illustrate how inconsistent NFL officials are calling games this year, and in the last case, how a bad call could have helped to end a teams season.  This is just a very small sample of the bad and inconsistent officiating that we have seen in the NFL lately.  Check back with badcallsfootball.com throughout the playoffs for more comparisons like this and of course analysis and discussion of bad calls in every game.

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