Despite it being the second time he's done it in the last few weeks. Detroit Lions safety Kerby Joseph doesn't deserve any aggressive label as a dirty player based on his low hit on Rams tight end Tyler Higbee Sunday night.
In its effort to take dangerous head contact out of the game, the NFL has made it increasingly difficult to be a defensive player. Someone like Joseph, going against a bigger receiver, has no choice but to go low when making a hit. Part of the angle here after Sunday night's play was he could have injured himself with that helmet to knee contact.
Joseph was asked about the play after the game (h/t to 97.1 The Ticket).
"Seen the ball thrown, just broke on it and then made the tackle, man, and then he coughed it up. I’m praying for him, hope he heal up OK. And that’s about it, don’t wanna say too much on that."
Linebacker Alex Anzalone added how the league has made it so Joseph has no choice but to go low in that situation.
"Honestly, it’s what this league is now," said Anzalone. "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."
Lions place blame elsewhere for Kerby Joseph's hit on Tyler Higbee
It's impossible to fully determine someone's intent, but let's assume Joseph did not intend to hurt Higbee as he posted on Twitter.
Anzalone added a layer of blame, on Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford.
"It’s a huge play, obviously. Forced incompletion. And definitely, putting that on film is good to deter offenses from throwing that ball in the future. And that’s on the quarterback to take care of his receivers. That was just a clutch play in the game that ended up helping us win."
Lions defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson did the same (via Click on Detroit), blaming Stafford for his ball placement.
"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.
A look at the play shows Stafford's throw could have been better. Higbee had to reach a little more than is ideal, which made him more vulnerable, and he couldn't quite pull it in independent of any defense around him. But there was space, however fleeting, around him, as is common against this Lions' secondary. Meanwhile, Joseph seemingly made a conscious choice to go straight at Higbee's lower legs, with no apparent effort to do anything different. And again, he made himself vulnerable to a head or neck injury.
Frankly, and without Honolulu Blue-shaded glasses on, it's a dangerous play inherent in football that Joseph ideally would have done differently. But he had no choice but to make it that way, in terms of going low.
Anzalone's comment about putting that on tape to deter another offense from throwing that kind of ball in the future is dirtier than Joseph's hit (if you want to call the hit dirty). A call out of Stafford's ball placement stretches a little too far.
But Joseph's teammates will defend him, even if it takes a stretch to point the finger of blame elsewhere. If there's even true blame to be placed for an unfortunate play that resulted in a major injury for Higbee.