When the NFL went all-in on changing the rules to limit head injuries, it came with these unintended consequences: Low hits, some of them of the season-ending variety, increased. This preseason, Dolphins tight end Dustin Keller tore his ACL, PCL and MCL after a low hit from Texans safety D.J. Swearinger, and Vikings defensive tackle Kevin Williams narrowly avoided injury after 49ers guard Joe Looney delivered a low block.
The NFL says that action could be taken if these low hits are "becoming a problem." It seems to already be a problem, although it may take an injury to a high-profile player for the league to get motivated. (Remember how the rules on going low on the quarterback changed in 2009, months after Tom Brady tore his ACL in Week 1 of the 2008 season?)
For now, the plan is monitor plays during the '13 season, see if low hits to the knees are an "aberration" or "becoming a problem," and go from there.
"We are always looking at plays that may elevate themselves, and we do include in that category hits on defenseless players," chief of football operations Ray Anderson told the Associated Press Tuesday. "And certainly the hits to knees to players who have not had the opportunity to protect themselves or are not looking in the direction of where the hit comes from -- we have had a couple hits whereby a player was hit below (or at) the knees. ...
"When we have had discussions when making the head and neck area completely off-limits to players, there was some concern players might lower their targets and might include knees and below. We will look at that going forward."
Steelers safety Ryan Clark, who is has been outspoken on issues of player safety, has serious concerns that low hits could become commonplace in the game.
"I'm so disgusted with the NFL right now about those situations," Clark said, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "If an offensive player makes enough of a stink, they'll change it. I know Tony Gonzalez was extremely upset about the hit on Dustin Keller. I understand that. I believe, and some of you may have the film, I said if you start penalizing guys and fining guys for hits up top ... Some of these hits up top are not illegal.
"I remember a hit I had on Victor Cruz last year, which was clearly legal, but it gave up seven points. I hurt my team by doing something I deemed legal and something the NFL also deemed legal by not fining me.
"So you go to the other extreme," Clark continued. "The guys know there is no way possible [to] get fined if [they] go low. It will be one or the other. Guys will hit up high and maybe risk getting a concussion or hurting a shoulder. When you get hit low, the season is going to be over. If they decide to change this rule, they might as well put flags on because you'll give a guy who is 200 pounds, like myself, a 2-foot area to stop a guy who is 240 or 250 running at full speed. They might as well just take us off the field and see how many points you can score on offense in 60 minutes. ...
"So, in some sense," Clark added, "you're protecting another player, but you're putting another one in harm's way, both physically and career-wise in terms of him losing his starting job."
The man makes a good point.