Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt turned Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson into a bit of a sympathetic figure early in an October 6 match-up at Heinz Field.
After pursuing the elusive second-year quarterback all the way to the sideline, Tuitt gave Jackson a parting gift in the way of a nice shove in the back just before he went out of bounds. Jackson, who weighs nearly 100 pounds less than Tuitt, naturally went flying pretty far and didn’t stop until he rolled over a camerawoman.
Jackson looked like a nice guy by immediately going over to the woman and helping her up.
She was okay, same with Jackson. As for Tuitt, not only was he penalized 15 yards on the play, he was hit in the pocketbook with a hefty fine afterwards.
But, in my opinion (and this could totally be my Steelers bias showing), Tuitt was the biggest victim on that play. Why? Because Jackson is a sneaky character along the lines of some heel wrestler, who pretends that the babyface is pulling his hair when the referee’s back is turned.
You see, Jackson, who, to reiterate, is really elusive, so elusive that game-day announcers constantly marvel at his ability to avoid tacklers in the open field, loves to do this thing where he looks like he’s about to go out of bounds, before cutting it back inside and gaining more yards.
He did it several times that day at Heinz Field, and he’s now done it enough that it is clearly a tool in his belt.
If you’re an old-school football fan, one that, say, has some reference to Jack Lambert in your social media handle, you no doubt are fully-aware of the NFL’s ongoing crusade to protect quarterbacks so much, one might feel as if they should be wearing......
As you know, defenders can’t hit quarterbacks in the helmet (heck, they can’t even glance it with their hand during a sack); they can’t hit them below the knees; they can’t hit them late; they can’t hit them after they’ve decided to give themselves up by sliding feet-first.
For that matter, there are times when defenders can’t even hit quarterbacks legally without it drawing a penalty, as Ola Adeniyi found out in the waning moments of what became an overtime loss to the Ravens in that aforementioned October 6 match-up.
Defenders have now become so conditioned to not kill the quarterback, they often appear to let up when one seems to be giving himself up in the name of safety. Remember when it looked like the legendary Peyton Manning did precisely that during the pivotal drive of a divisional round playoff loss to the Broncos back in 2016? Several Steelers defenders appeared to ease up on the play after Manning fell to the ground feet-first in-order to avoid a sack. But he was allowed to get right back up and complete a long pass to a receiver that was likely being covered by one of those Steelers defenders who eased up on the play.
What are defenders supposed to do these days? As it pertains to Jackson, that soon may be a very important question if he continues his ascension and eventually achieves superstar quarterback status.
Should he be allowed to continue to pretend like he’s going out of bounds, only to fake it back inside? Silly question, because what can the NFL do about it? Nothing. The league can’t do a thing about it.
But that doesn’t mean defenders can’t do something about it. If you’re an astute defensive player, and you’ve watched enough tape on Jackson to know that he likes to fake like he’s going out of bounds, aren’t you going to be alert to that possibility the next time you encounter him near the sidelines?
What’s to stop someone from just blasting Jackson into the nearest Gatorade table?
It might cost that defender 15 yards and a hefty fine, but if he’s not careful, it might cost Jackson his livelihood.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me a third time, you better become a better passer, because your knees are too damaged to fool anyone any longer.