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James Harrison's Hit and the NFL Rule Book



The Thursday Night Football Game against the Cleveland Browns was not with out its share of big hits. However there was on hit in particular that has been mentioned already numerously this Friday. Unfortunately this hit also involved Steelers OLB James Harrison. A break down of the play from what I saw was Colt McCoy began to scramble to the right, he had tucked the ball. Then when James Harrison was three yards away he decided to dump it off the reciever in the flat. Harrison at this three yard mark put is head down and lunged at Colt McCoy hitting his helmet with Colt's.

A ridiculous amount of people have already weighed in on this. Some say that Harrison had a clean hit, others say it was illegal and will be fined but was not malicious and still others are calling for Harrison to be suspended. This enticed me to do some research into the NFL rule to determine whether or not this was illegal.

To start this I wanted to find out if Harrison method of tackling was considered illegal. Under Rule 12 Article 8 subsection (f)

If a player uses any part of his helmet or face-mask to butt, spear, or ram an opponent violently or unnecessarily. Although such violent or unnecessary use of the helmet and face-mask is impermissible against any opponent, game officials will give special attention in administering this rule to protecting those players who are in a virtually defenseless posture, including but not limited to: (1) Forcibly hitting the defenseless player's head, neck, or face with the helmet or face-mask, regardless of whether the defensive player also uses his arms to tackle the defenseless player's body;l or (3) "Launching" (springing forward and upward) into an defenseless player, or otherwise him in a way that causes the defensive player's helmet or face-mask to forcibly strike the defenseless player's head, neck, or face- even if the initial contact of the defenders helmet of face-mask is lower than the defenseless player's neck.

Okay that sound very similar to what James Harrison did. The next question is was Colt McCoy a defenseless player. Well in that exact same section a little further down that is covered.

...Defenseless player in (f) and (g) shall include (i) a player in the act of or just after throwing a pass

Okay but Colt was out of the pocket, as James Harrison interprets it that means he is not subjected to the protection right?

Not exactly. In the 2010 League Policies for Players manual, which is distributed to all players and coaches at the start of training camp this is answered.

4. Protection While Out of Pocket. When the passer goes outside the pocket area and either continues moving with the ball (without attempting to advance the ball as a runner) or throws while on the run, he loses the protection of the one-step rule and the provision regarding low hits, but he remains covered by all other special protections afforded to a passer in the pocket. If a passer outside the pocket stops behind the line and clearly establishes a passing posture, he is covered by all of the special protections.

This statement above means that it is illegal to hit a QB in the helmet while he is throwing or just after throwing the ball. This phrase is actually underlined in the manual.

" he loses the protection of the one-step rule and the provision regarding low hits, but he remains covered by all other special protections afforded to a passer in the pocket."

So in summary James Harrison hit was illegal. However it was not malicious in my opinion nor was it atrociously late. This will probably warrant a hefty fine but not a suspension. Suspensions are reserved for malicious act or non-football acts.

Here are the links to my references,

http://www.nfl.com/news/story/09000d5d81c8823a/printable/leagues-official-player-safety-rules

http://espn.go.com/blog/nflnation/post/_/id/29969/nfl-rulebook-unnecessary-roughness

http://www.steelersdepot.com/2010/10/nfl-rule-book-2010-rule-12-section-2-article-8/

and the actual hit

http://nfl.cpl.delvenetworks.com/player/yahoo/carousel/embed_code.html?channelId=de89a8aeb3e422bac4eb48567f10ebd0&channelListId&mediaId=1dff00282e4d46e6ab920db1c7f959ae

Here is the official 2011 Rule Book as brought to my attention by BTSC member BlackGoldSwan. In PDF file format.

2011 Rule Book

It is interesting that in the Official 2011 Rule Book they give a very similar example of this play. Recap it was a 2nd and 5 on the Steelers 40. Colt ran out and passed the ball off to a receiver who was downed at the Steelers 38 yard line. Just after the pass Colt was hit by James Harrison making helmet-to-helmet contact.

A.R. 12.47 ROUGHING THE PASSER

Second-and-3 on A35. Quarterback A1 rolls out of the pocket, and while moving, throws a pass to A2

who is downed at the A40. Just after A1 released the ball, B1 tackles the quarterback making helmet-to-helmet contact in the process.

Ruling: A’s ball, first-and 10 on B45. Roughing the passer because of the helmet-to-helmet hit. (12-2-

12-3)

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