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Duality of Football: NFL Protection Favors Offensive Players Over Defense

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WASHINGTON (CBSDC) - After St. Louis’ Bob Gibson posted a modern record 1.12 earned run average while Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski was winning a batting title with a modern record low .301 average to symbolize the “Year of the Pitcher” in 1968, the lords of baseball lowered the mound in order to restore some balance between the pitchers and the hitters.

After 7-foot-2 Lew Alcindor powered UCLA to the national title in 1967, the NCAA banned dunking for the next nine seasons with the idea of preventing college hoops from becoming a jam-a-thon.

And just this season, the NHL shrunk the size of goalie pads in hopes of increasing scoring which slipped last year to its lowest level since the league returned in 2005 from a year-long lockout.

In the NFL, from the advent of the 16-game season in 1978 through 1999, only one Super Bowl champion scored fewer than 350 points. However, as such a team triumphed four times in the next nine years, football’s powers that be tweaked the rules to make them more offense-friendly. Those changes that hampered defenders also improved player safety as penalties for vicious hits became more frequent and led to larger fines and even suspensions.

“It’s an offensive league,” said Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall, an always-candid 10-year veteran. “Everybody knows that. They love to see points scored. [But] if we thought about some of the things they ask us not to do or to do during the course of a football game, my mind would be spinning even more than it already is.”

Which brings us to free safety Brandon Meriweather being unavailable for Sunday’s huge test for Washington’s up-and-down defense in Denver against the Broncos, who’ll surely be especially motivated after losing for the first time this season last Sunday in Indianapolis.

Meriweather was suspended on Tuesday after being flagged for illegal hits on Chicago receivers Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall in the Redskins’ 45-41 survival of the Bears last Sunday. Meriweather’s timing couldn’t be much worse given that strong safety Reed Doughty might not be able to play because of a concussion he suffered against the Bears and because Denver quarterback Peyton Manning and his offense are operating at a record pace.

“I don’t think you can ever be prepared for Peyton Manning,” said Redskins cornerback Josh Wilson. “He’s one of the greatest, if not the greatest, quarterbacks to ever play the game. You just gotta figure out a way to slow him down. It’s difficult when you have everybody. You don’t have Brandon, that makes it even tougher.”

What also makes it tougher is that no matter how ghastly the hits seemed to most of us, Wilson and Hall thought Meriweather was punished in part because of his reputation for cheap shots. He’s like the perpetual troublemaker whom the teacher blames when an object goes flying across the classroom even if he had nothing to do with it.

“There’s definitely been some other players out there who’ve made some pretty outrageous hits and haven’t been suspended,” Hall said. “If we want to protect guys, we gotta protect every single guy on the field, not just the receivers, the tight ends and the quarterbacks. We get hit just as hard as a lot of other guys, but we don’t get any flags. We don’t get any sympathy. We just get up and keep trying to play or we sit out with concussions like Reed’s doing.”

Josh Wilson: Meriweather Hits Weren’t ‘Dirty’

Doughty was concussed on an onside kick on a blind side shot to the helmet by Sherrick McManus that Mike Shanahan called one of “the most vicious I’ve ever seen” and one that Washington’s coach hopes to outlaw for next season and beyond.

Wilson believes that Meriweather can’t escape the fine-prompting blows he dished out for New England in 2010, his second straight Pro Bowl season, and in Chicago in 2011.

“It’s football,” Wilson said. “You signed up to get hit. That’s why you wear a helmet. No one’s purposely trying to hurt anybody. Brandon’s not that type of guy. He’s not a dirty guy. You wouldn’t call [retired star safeties] Steve Atwater or Ronnie Lott or John Lynch dirty guys. We grew up watching those guys and that’s how we learned to play football. You just have to adjust to how it is [now]. I think [Brandon] is adjusting. Everybody else is having a harder time believing that he’s trying to be a better player, that he’s not the same guy he was when he first got in the league.”

That’s hard to believe because Meriweather, who played less than a game in 2012 because of knee injuries, certainly looked like the same old “go for the kill” hitter last month when he kayoed Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy only to be knocked woozy himself when he tried to deal a similar blow to Packers replacement James Starks.

While Hall and Wilson defended Meriweather, Doughty disagreed.

“With what has transpired the last couple of years with head injuries and the stance that [NFL Commissioner] Roger Goodell has taken, I’m not surprised [Brandon] was suspended,” Doughty said. “You definitely change the way you play, not necessarily being less aggressive, but … you know they’re going to call a flag if that ball’s not catchable. [Still,] you’re going to make mistakes. People are going to get hit.”

This week, Meriweather isn’t dishing out hits. He’s taking them: the $70,588 lost game check and the one to his defense which could really use an athletically gifted safety in Denver.

David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin

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