There has been a reasonable amount of discussion about Ndamukong Suh’s apparently legal (but allegedly illegal) hit on Brandon Weeden.
The hit went unflagged, but ended up costing Suh $31,500, drawing the ire of many an NFL fan, myself included.
However, far less discussed is a nearly identical hit on Matthew Stafford by Browns linebacker Quentin Groves. Like Suh, Groves went in for a hit on the quarterback, lowered his head to avoid helmet-to-helmet contact, and got Stafford around the shoulders. Here’s a still of the hit at the Detroit Free Press.
The result of the play was an incomplete pass on third down, and a 15-yard penalty to keep a drive alive that was ultimately back-breaking for the Browns. According to ESPN, referee Walt Coleman told Groves after the penalty that he “thought Groves had speared (i.e., used his helmet) to hit Stafford.”
That sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Let’s go back to the language used when the league office was explaining the play in which Suh was not flagged for roughing the passer.
Dean Blandino, the NFL’s VP of officiating, says in this video that he “felt that he did make contact with the forehead-hairline. Lowered the head and made contact with the forehead-hairline. Not to the head or neck, but the rule does prohibit that contact to the body.”
Let’s leave aside for a moment whether helmet-to-body contact should be a penalty. If Blandino says helmet-to-body contact is illegal, and they used that to take $31,500 out of Suh’s pocket, then why isn’t it illegal when Groves does it? Why isn’t it illegal when Jon Bostic does it to a prone, unmoving Kris Durham?
Of course, I’m a Lions fan defending a Lions player on a Lions website. Maybe I’m biased, so let’s get the take of some unbiased national voices.
If the NFL turning a blind eye to Groves’ hit is an indication, Tony Kornheiser was apparently right when he said, “nobody who’s not named Ndamukong Suh or James Harrison would be disciplined for this hit.”
Blandino said the NFL is going to “aggressively enforce player safety fouls,” but Kornheiser contests that “Brandon Weeden was not unsafe by that hit.”
Michael Wilbon echoes my sentiments from yesterday when he suggests that if Suh doesn’t lower his head, the NFL flags, fines, and possibly even suspends him. In his estimation Suh “lowers his head to keep himself off of Weeden’s helmet, and anybody who says anything other than that is lying.”
If there is anything good to come from this sequence of events, it’s that it has raised awareness of how Suh is unfairly scrutinized by the league office. Not just Lions fans, but nearly every respected national NFL columnist is on Suh’s side in this one, for the first time maybe ever.
And this for a guy like Suh who has absolutely zero benefit of the doubt remaining. Some will talk about how Suh’s lengthy history gets him fined more because he’s a repeat offender, and that’s understandable. If the NFL wants to look at Groves and Suh performing the same hit and come down harder on Suh because he has a rep, that’s fine. Fine Suh $31,500 and give Groves the standard $15,750 fine that comes with a personal foul call (which, again, Groves was called for in the game and Suh wasn’t).
But don’t fine Suh for something and then ignore somebody else doing the same thing in the same game. Not if this is really about player safety. That’s the kind of thing that generates the talk about “witch hunts” and “anti-Lions bias” and other such accusations that the NFL would probably rather avoid.
What, really, is the difference between Suh’s hit and Groves’ hit? It is because Suh is stronger than most other NFL players? Should he stop lifting so many weights, and give up the advantage that makes him such a good football player, because the NFL is worried he might hurt the other kids?
This isn’t about giving Suh the benefit of the doubt. Not anymore. It’s simply about enforcing the rules that the NFL claims are so important to preserving the future of the sport, evenly and fairly for every player. That doesn’t appear to be happening, which is why the NFL fines tracker through Week 6 looks like this:
Ndamukong Suh — 2 fines/$131,500
Rest of Detroit Lions — 7 fines/$73,000
Detroit Lions Opponents — 1 fine/$15,750
Check back in next week, when hopefully there is a lot less to talk about (but there probably will be).