Upon further review, go ahead, NFL: Just ban the damn hip-drop tackle.
This is hardly knee-jerk fallout from the potentially season-ending injury that star Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews suffered on Thursday night, seemingly caused by the controversial tactic that apparently is becoming an increasing danger.
The NFL’s competition committee pushed for action on the tactic last spring in the name of safety – drawing rebuke from defensive players, coaches, some analysts and, of all entities, the NFL Players Association – yet never officially proposed a new rule.
The matter was tabled for further review.
Well, how much more needs to be reviewed? Andrews, who, per multiple reports, sustained a cracked fibula and left ankle ligament damage when Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson took him to the grass and landed on the tight end with his body weight, is the latest exhibit that advances the case.
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No doubt, the debate is intensifying. A person with knowledge of the situation who asked not to be identified told USA TODAY Sports that at least one member of the NFL’s competition committee in recent days has suggested the highly unusual measure of instituting a rule now – during the season – to ban the tactic. The person did not want to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue.
During the season? That seems absurd, given the way the NFL does its business with the rules. Typically, potential rule changes go through the wringer during the offseason, which includes getting input from veteran players at the combine and vetting during competition committee meetings that extend for more than a week. Proposals are debated, tweaked, debated, sampled with straw votes and then some before the final verdict of owners’ votes.
As much as the league should have pushed harder last offseason, a fast track is needed in this case.
Of course, that doesn’t always happen, given NFL politics can move slower than getting a bill passed on Capitol Hill. Just think (Dez Bryant) of all the back-and-forth that went into defining a catch.
But it’s coming. Even with the pushback and the difficulty of officiating it in real-time, it’s a no-brainer that the NFL needs to get the tactic out of the game. No, the NFL hasn’t shown much interest in requiring that all stadiums use natural grass, as many players suggest, but I’m guessing that Roger Goodell sees the hip-drop tackle in the same vein as the horse collar tackle that was banned in 2005. With the hip-drop technique, defenders typically land on ball-carriers with the body weight as they yank them to the turf.
Ask Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard, who suffered a fractured leg and ankle as he was knocked out of an NFC divisional playoff game at San Francisco in January on a hip-drop tackle. Or Kansas City Chiefs MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who on that same weekend suffered a high ankle sprain on a takedown by a Jacksonville Jaguars defender in an AFC divisional playoff.
During league meetings in New York last month, an NFL spokesman contended that the injury rate linked to hip-drop tackles is 25 times higher than for a normal tackle. That’s an uptick from the “20 times higher” figure NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent cited during the spring.
In any event, the lines are drawn. One NFL head coach, who requested anonymity, told USA TODAY Sports that he favors outlawing the hip-drop tackle because, in addition to the injury risk, ball-carriers can’t defend themselves. The coach did not want to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue.
‘And it wasn’t used in the game until two, three years ago,’ the coach said. ‘Now it’s been copycatted by players.’
In Week 4, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith was penalized for a personal foul during a Monday night game at the New York Giants when he was involved in a scuffle. While it was unusual to see a quarterback engage in a heated exchange, Smith was in retaliation mode after suffering a knee injury on a hip-drop tackle by Isaiah Simmons.
‘A dirty play,’ Smith told ESPN’s Lisa Salters after the game. ‘There’s no place in the sport for that. And you know, hopefully something happens. But other than that, the grace of God allowed me to come back into this game.’
After Thursday’s game, Ravens coach John Harbaugh left little doubt that he thought Andrews was sidelined by the hip-drop technique employed by Wilson.
‘It’s a tough tackle,’ Harbaugh said during his postgame news conference. ‘Was it even necessary in that situation?’
Interestingly, Wilson was also the defender who took Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson down at the sideline late in the first quarter with a hip-drop tackle. Jackson was shaken up but escaped serious injury and played the complete game.
Harbaugh said he intended to send in the video of both of the plays to the league for interpretation.
Bengals coach Zac Taylor, meanwhile, vehemently defended Wilson on Friday after updating reporters in Cincinnati on the season-ending injury to quarterback Joe Burrow.
‘One thing that’s frustrating was the narrative that’s been brought up about Logan Wilson,’ Taylor said. ‘Logan is everything we want to be about, in the way he plays the game. He plays with a toughness and a physicality that is important to that position.’
Taylor acknowledged the injury to Andrews is ‘unfortunate’ yet maintained that the narrative about Wilson has been ‘completely reckless.’
Wilson’s use of the hip-drop technique may be considered dirty … but it’s legal.
Your move, NFL.
Unless or until the NFL officially bans the tactic, more casualties loom.
And the debate will include those who believe that banning the tactic will put defenders at a further disadvantage in a game that includes emphasis to take the head out of the game with helmet-to-helmet hits on defenseless players and strict roughing-the-passer penalties.
Last spring, Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Todd Bowles told USA TODAY Sports that while he realizes the injury risks linked to the technique, he didn’t favor a ban.
‘There’s going to be collateral damage,’ Bowles said. ‘You want to limit it as much as possible. You don’t want nobody getting hurt, but it’s hard to tell somebody how to tackle. The angles are different. The speed is different. I don’t know how to stop it. ‘Don’t tackle high. Don’t tackle low. Don’t hip-drop.’ What are you going to tell a guy? Some guys are more athletic than others. Where does it stop?’
In the coming months, it will be interesting to see whether there is movement in the measure of support among coaches, team owners and other decision-makers. An idea that has been floated in lieu of a rule is that the technique can be “coached out of the game.”
Good luck with that in the ultra-competitive NFL, where merely defining the tactic is a precursor to banning it. Bottom line, the NFL needs to outlaw the hip-drop tackle.
If not now, then ASAP.