You know the NFL regular season is near when two teams and the league are chirping back and forth about a ruling on a tackle during a preseason game.
During the Eagles-Ravens game on Saturday, Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs was penalised for roughing the passer after he hit Sam Bradford on a running play.
The hit came after Bradford had handed the ball off to Darren Sproles, and it appeared like Suggs went for Bradford’s surgically-repaired knees:
A photo of the hit raises questions about Suggs’ intentions:
After the game, Bradford and other Eagles players told reporters they thought it was a dirty play. Suggs said he didn’t hit Bradford as hard as he could have, and noted this is the risk the Eagles take by running the read-option: letting their quarterback get hit.
On Monday, NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino said that the a flag shouldn’t have been thrown, explaining that if the play was a read-option, then Bradford is a runner and liable to get hit. Eagles coach Chip Kelly, naturally, argued that the play was a simple hand-off, not a read-option, therefore Bradford shouldn’t have been hit like that.
“Are they going to hit every quarterback in the league when they hand off in the shotgun? That’s up to the league. I think it would be troubling for the league if every quarterback in the shotgun can be hit,” he said.
While the tackle did look a little bit low and to the knees, the play also exposes a big risk in the Eagles’ acquisition in Bradford.
While any team would be worried about their quarterback being hit at the knees, Bradford is coming off of two torn ACLs. He hasn’t played a full season since 2012 and only managed seven games in 2013. Suggs noted this risk.
“When you run the read-option, you have to know the rules,” he said after the game. “If you want to run the read-option with your starting quarterback that has had two knee surgeries, that’s on you. That’s not my responsibility to update you on the rules.”
Kelly and the Eagles not only run the ball a lot, they like to run the read option. There’s a bit of a grey area between a regular hand-off and a hand-off in the read option, and if defences (and refs) can’t tell the difference between the two plays, it opens up the possibility of more hits on the quarterback. Many offenses don’t rely on the read option for the sake of protecting their quarterbacks from running too much and getting hit. That risk only increases when your starting quarterback is coming off of back-to-back torn ACLs.
Bradford, naturally, would be an injury risk, anyway, but with the prevalence of the read option in the Eagles’ offence, Kelly is making Bradford liable in certain circumstances. Many people believe the Eagles are keeping Tim Tebow partially as a read-option quarterback to keep Bradford out of short-yardage situations.
Whether Kelly’s argument can gain enough traction in the league to make a rules change remains to be seen, but until then, his gamble that Bradford can stay healthy will play that much bigger of a role in the Eagles’ offence.
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