Marcus Mariota has a sprained knee ligament, according to ESPN, after taking an hit from behind by Olivier Vernon of the Miami Dolphins just two weeks after new head coach Dan Campbell vowed his team would be more aggressive and “walk that line” of dirty play.
After the game, Tennessee Titans head coach Ken Wisenhunt angrily called the play “bull**** football.“
The hit came early in the second quarter as Vernon (No. 50) rushed in from Mariota’s backside and hit him below the waist.
Vernon was penalised for roughing the passer on the play. But more importantly, many are calling the play a dirty hit with Whisenhunt going so far as to say that he thought the intent was to hurt Mariota.
“I think it was done with the idea of trying to hurt our quarterback,” Whisenhunt told the media after the game.
On the television broadcast, there was some thought that Vernon may have either been pushed down or had been tripped, leading to his being lower than intended. However, as Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk notes, the “All-22 film,” the video used by coaches to see all 22 players on the field at once, shows a different angle and suggests there was nothing accidental about the hit.
The visual evidence paints a more clear picture. This wasn’t Mark Barron or Bernard Pollard on the ground and trying to make a play on Ben Roethlisberger or Tom Brady, respectively. This was a guy who was upright and who then dove at a guy’s legs, turning just before impact and throwing his backside into Mariota’s lower body.
Normally, this would simply just be the debate about whether or not a player went rogue and tried to hurt an opposing quarterback. But this play came in Dan Campbell’s first game as interim head coach after the Dolphins fired Joe Philbin.
When Campbell was first introduced to the media, he had some comments that raised some eyebrows and seemed to foreshadow this very play.
Here is how Campbell described his “vision” on that day and how he wants his players to play:
“It’s a team that’s not playing conservative or not holding back worrying about, ‘Am I a little too close to the quarterback?’, or ‘Should I hit him like this?’ We’re going to play by the rules, but we’re going to be much more aggressive. We’re going to walk that line is what we’re going to do. There is always that line where this is OK to do and this is dirty. I’m not saying we want dirty players, but we are going to walk that line. That’s what I want to do. I want us pulling the trigger. I don’t want us playing conservative. I don’t want us playing on our heels. I want us playing on our toes and we’re going forward, and we’re going through you. That’s the mentality.”
Campbell was empahatic that he wanted the players playing by the rules and the hit by Vernon on Mariota was at the very least, not within the rules, as it was flagged for roughing the passer.
But herein lies the problem with Campbell’s comments: if you push the players to “that line” where good, clean hard-nosed football becomes dirty, occasionally players are going to wander to the other side as there is no room for error. And when a coach openly promises to have his players near that line, it is hard to give the player the benefit of the doubt when the opposing quarterback is injured on a questionable play 17 minutes into the coach’s tenure.
When asked about the play, Vernon simply said that he is not a dirty player.
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