Raiders linebacker Phillip Wheeler was everywhere during Oakland's 34-31 win over the Steelers in Week 3. He forced two fumbles and batted away two passes in the Raiders' first win of the season.
He may walk away from that game being notorious more than anything else.
With 14:50 left in the third quarter, the Steelers have the ball on the second play of the first half. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger delivers a pass down the field, and at least a full second goes by before Wheeler lunges into his left leg, causing Roethlisberger to collapse on the ground, writhing in pain.
At first glance, the hit looks dirty, and not only should have drawn a penalty, but likely, a fine as well.
Steelers safety Ryan Mundy received the infamous FedEx envelope used to deliver notification that a player was fined for conduct on the field in the previous week. No report has been made on whether Wheeler received one.
Watching the play again, though, it's possible he may not get one.
Steelers right tackle Kelvin Beachum was in on this play, one of five he played in the game. After the ball was delivered, Beachum clearly gives Wheeler a shove in the back, forcing him to the ground. It can be argued at this point Beachum's shove propelled him toward Roethlisberger, and the result was him striking his leg.
At the same time, though, forward momentum may be there, but Wheeler still seems to be aiming for Roethlisberger's leg. It's a subjective decision whether to call it intentional or simply the result of the momentum caused by Beachum's shove. On one hand, Wheeler is crawling in the direction of the quarterback and seems to extend his arm as if to wrap up Roethlisberger's feet. His shoulder drives into Roethlisberger's leg after propelling himself toward the defenseless quarterback.
On the other, he is clearly moved in Roethlisberger's direction as he's trying to stand up. He would not have been in the position he was in unless he was shoved by Beachum.
It's eerily similar to Kimo Von Oelhoffen's hit on Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer, who, incidentally, was the Raiders quarterback in this game.
The real failure here is on the part of the official. He can be seen in the background (on the left side) watching Roethlisberger but as soon as the ball leaves his hand he looks downfield. At that point, the back judge should be watching for a late hit on the quarterback, and otherwise does not have any responsibility off the line of scrimmage.
I'd be amazed if the official - given his angle - saw Beachum's push, and if he was watching, he would simply see Wheeler going into Ben's legs, which absolutely is a penalty. As we know in the NFL, fine does not equal penalty, even if penalty pretty much always equals fine.
If I was a betting man, I'd say the result will be the same for Wheeler as it was for Von Oelhoffen - no fine issued. Fortunately for the Steelers, Roethlisberger didn't suffer the same fate Palmer did.
But someone should remind his rookie right tackle shoving a prone defensive player in the vicinity of his quarterback is probably not a good idea.
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