First off, this will not be an argument about whether or not Lions' safety Kerby Joseph's low hit on Rams tight end Tyler Higbee Sunday night was dirty or in any way intentional by Joseph. If Higbee didn't suffer a torn ACL on the play, the dirty aspect is probably not a conversation. And it has to be assumed Joseph had no malicious intent.
A couple of Joseph's teammates, defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson and linebacker Alex Anzalone, have come out to defend Joseph's hit. It's true, as Anzalone said and has written on social media, that the NFL has made it so defensive players can't do anything else but go low in a situation like that.
"Honestly, it’s what this league is now," Anzalone said. "You have to go low, you can’t go high and it’s a clinic tackle, in my opinion. I know they exchanged words after, but there’s nothing else that we can do defensively now. That’s what the league office wants."
Gardner-Johnson took it another direction, blaming Rams' quarterback Matthew Stafford and the placement of the throw for getting Higbee hurt.
"If anybody on the Rams feel like it was dirty, well tell his quarterback don't put the ball in a place where he gets his player hurt,” Gardner-Johnson said."
Anzalone added the same sentiment Gardner-Johnson did about it being a poor throw by Stafford. Looking at the play, it could have been a better throw so Higbee was not reaching, and thus more vulnerable to an awkward hit and an injury. So there is a little something to that, if you want to go there.
Alex Anzalone's additional comment about Kerby Joseph hit on Tyler Higbee is a step too far
But, as passed along by Nolan Bianchi of the Detroit News, Anzalone had an additional comment regarding the throw by Stafford.
"Putting that on film is good to deter offenses from throwing that ball in the future,” Anzalone said. “And that’s on the quarterback to take care of his receivers in the future. That was just a clutch play in the game that ended up helping us win.”
If Higbee catches the ball (a better throw would have helped, yes), he probably has a chance to protect himself better. But Joseph is still going very low, whether the result is a pass breakup or to make a tackle after a catch. The injury may have happened anyway.
Anzalone seems to be saying, without directly saying, that Higbee being injured like he was will deter other quarterbacks from throwing a pass like that against the Lions in the future. But Stafford did not set up Higbee for what is often called a "hospital ball" with a lot of traffic around him. Higbee had cleared coverage, and Joseph was coming down toward the play. There was room for a catch to be made without much incident, in theory.
Saying the league leaves Joseph little choice but to go low on Higbee in that situation is accurate. Blaming Stafford for a throw that could have been more accurate has a little something to it, even if the injury may have happened anyway.
But a suggestion that Higbee's injury was some sort of message, and will be a deterrent to a quarterback making a similar throw against the Lions, is disappointing to hear from a team leader like Anzalone.