Putting Clark-Cruz to Bed

The NFL finally got it right.

Hold on there ladies and gents, put down the pitchforks. Mechem, please don't put me in your hate guide. I'm not talking about the decision to call yet another phantom "blow to the head" on a Steelers defender. I'm speaking on the NFL's decision to not fine Ryan Clark for what some are calling a flagrant hit, despite the lack of any contact between Ryan Clark and Victor Cruz's head.

Somewhere Joe Greene, Deacon Jones, Jack Lambert, and Dick Butkus sit at the bar of incomparable manhood and snort at the state of NFL.

According to this drivel from Shutdown Corner, one reporter believes Clark should have heard from the NFL for his latest big hit on poor, "unsuspecting" wide receiver. Forgive me as I step out to vomit. Here's the paragraph in question so that you don't have to waste anymore of your life than necessary following that link:

"But it's also very clear that Clark was looking to inflict pain on a receiver that wasn't in position to defend himself. He honed in on Cruz in the end zone, saw an opportunity to strike when Cruz wasn't looking, and hammered him. It's hard to watch Clark through the play and not come to the conclusion that his only intention was to hit a vulnerable receiver who realistically had no chance to catch the ball after Ike Taylor batted it away and had no idea Clark was coming. The hit was, at the very least, unnecessary."

Now I don't know Mr. Greene, Mr. Jones, Mr. Lambert, nor Mr. Butkus, but if I had to guess, their reaction to this demonizing of "looking to inflict pain" on a football field would have to range between incredulous to disgust. Football has always been a violent game, and while the NFL should do its best to protect its players in regards to head injuries, they might as well make the conversion to flag/touch football if Clark's hit is deemed "unnecessary."

Let's take a look.

Link: The definitive angle (All stills taken from that video in the link):


A blurry first shot, but this is the moment of first contact between Taylor and the ball. Cruz has his hands raised in anticipation of the pass. Clark, seeing this, locks in on the wide receiver.


A much clearer image now shows Clark on a bee-line for Cruz. His hips, chest and head are all directly aligned with Cruz. At this point his peripheral vision does not fully capture Ike Taylor or the ball. He only sees Cruz with his hands up, ready to receive a pass.


A step closer and it's clear-see both feet planted in the turf, ready to spring, and left elbow and forearm rise- Clark is committed to delivering a hit. Cruz's hands are still up, still not ruling out the threat of an incoming pass.


So there can be no doubt, Clark obviously leads with the shoulder as he and Cruz collide. Cruz's hands are finally lowered, partly due to the tremendous force of the hit


Finally, the tape confirms what we all already knew; at no point did Clark hit Cruz in the head. The ball has yet to hit the ground, and thus no whistle has blown yet.

Going back to Frank Schwab, the writer of the aforementioned article, who argues that Clark's "only intention was to hit a vulnerable receiver who realistically had no chance to catch the ball." This is false. As depicted by the stills, it's clear Victor Cruz held his hands in a position that would suggest the ball was still on its way. For Clark, the only logical thing to do was to make a play on the receiver. I'd go as far as to say that vast majority of NFL safeties make the same play Clark does. You are never going to pull up short of a potential TD pass because your corner may have deflected the pass. From Clark's angle of attack, he may have been able to discern Ike Taylor was in the vicinity of the pass, but not whether he was able to make a play on it.

To suggest that Clark went out of his way to knock Cruz down egregiously is stupid. Clark is a veteran enough player to know that to do so would only cost his team points. If anything, Clark should be commended on his adjustment to the new defenseless receiver rules.This isn't the first time he's been wrongfully penalized this year either. Remember, the call on the field was a "blow to the head." The same blown call was made in week 2 against the Jets, when Clark popped Santonio Holmes, forcing an incompletion.

Not only was Holmes not defenseless-as he had taken 3 steps with the football-Clark also never made contact with Holmes' head.

Remember when this was legal/or at least accepted by executives high in the league?

The sudden 180 midway through the 2010 season on what constituted an illegal hit to a defenseless receiver certainly had plenty of Steelers unwilling to so quickly change their style of play. Clark in particular had a few hits last year that resulted in mail from the NFL, but it's apparent that he's made a conscious effort to change his style of play, the sad part is, the NFL doesn't care. Clark himself said following the Giants game that he feels refs meet before games to discuss targeting him specifically. While I can't drink that much Kool-Aid, I will say they penalize him with an obvious prejudice. Clark gets no benefit of the doubt.This is not to say he hasn't ever made an illegal hit, but it's becoming clear that he has made adjustments to his style of play. It's about time the NFL make adjustments to their officiating.

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