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October 24, 2013 Thursday
SPORTS; Pg. 7C
|Fine player and coach;
Number of illegal hits would fall with shared responsibility
Jarrett Bell,email@example.com,USA TODAY Sports
Maybe Brandon Meriweather has been disciplined for the last time for recklessly launching himself headfirst into an opponent.
I hope so. But I doubt it.
The Washington safety caught a break Wednesday, when appeals officer Ted Cottrell reduced Meriweather's two-game suspension to one game without pay for two helmet-to-helmet blows against Chicago Bears receivers Sunday. One game check for Meriweather is $70,588 of his $1.2million base salary.
He should have had a stiffer penalty, given his dangerous track record.
He was fined $40,000 for a head-to-head shot on Baltimore Ravens tight end Todd Heap during that watershed Sunday in October 2010, when the NFL responded to three similar incidents by threatening to immediately begin suspending repeat offenders.
In 2011, he was docked on consecutive weekends, $20,000 for a head-to-head shot on Carolina Panthers receiver Steve Smith and then $25,000 for a late hit on Detroit Lions wideout Nate Burleson.
Last month, he was fined $42,000 for a head-to-head blast on Green Bay Packers rookie running back Eddie Lacy.
Obviously, the NFL's message about safety -- its War on Headhunters -- isn't affecting enough change.
It's a shame it has taken a fifth offense to get him (briefly) off the field.
And with the pattern exhibited in the appeals process, with Meriweather following fellow safeties Dashon Goldson and Ed Reed in having suspensions reduced, the threat of the hefty fines and suspensions is not enough of a deterrent.
It's time the NFL puts even more teeth in its discipline. It needs to expand the sphere of accountability and punish coaches, too.
Imagine what a hefty fine on Mike Shanahan could do.
"That's been discussed," NFL executive vice president for football operations Ray Anderson told USA TODAY Sports on Wednes-day. "There needs to be group accountability."
The league docks teams for excessive violations of safety-related rules through its club remittance policy, which also includes financial penalties when players are suspended for violations of the personal conduct, substance abuse or steroid policies.
Putting coaches on notice would send a stronger statement. "If the culture doesn't change," Anderson said, "that may be the next step."
Good idea. In making personnel decisions, coaches would have more incentive to weigh how disciplined a player is in playing within the rules, right along with speed, playbook knowledge and big-play ability.
Shanahan defended Meriweather, maintaining the hits Sunday were not intentional. The NFL doesn't judge intent when issuing discipline, but when players -- such as Meriweather and Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh -- keep showing up on league disciplinarian Merton Hanks' videotape reviews, it lessens the benefit of the doubt.
When I asked Shanahan about the impact safety rules had had on his coaching techniques, he pointed to the fine line that exists with inadvertent helmet-to-helmet shots. He makes the same point you hear from defensive players, challenged to deliver a legal blow to the strike zone of a moving target -- in a split second.
"You cannot have penalties," he said. "They're going to cost you a game. So, not even talking about the way you teach, you can't have those things happen. ... If it's anywhere close to helmet-to-helmet, they are throwing a 15-yard flag. If you get anywhere around that head, you've got a chance to hurt your team.
"We're constantly emphasizing it, but it's tough in the heat of battle for these guys."
For some, yes.
Packers tight end Jermichael Finley wound up in ICU on Sunday with a spinal cord injury after a blow from Cleveland Browns safety Tashaun Gipson -- whose hit didn't appear flagrant and was exactly the type of play defenders loathe when the moving target lowers his head.
What's different about Meriweather is his style of launching, headfirst.
That's why Bears receiver Brandon Marshall, who took one of the blows from Meriwether, told reporters Meriweather should be taken out of the game completely.
It's why Chicago tight end Martellus Bennett called him a scumbag.
After Sunday's game, Meriweather joked that with a fine coming he couldn't afford dinner and solicited reporters to chip in.
As Bennett put it, there are too many cases when defenders accept fines as the cost of their business.
When the Bears players spoke out, you can bet Anderson or other high-level NFL execs didn't object. Peer pressure reinforces the initiative.
But perhaps nothing will hit home like shared accountability that includes coaches -- who can further preach winning and losing as a team.
October 24, 2013