Adrian Wilson was flagged for this hit on Ravens tight end Todd Heap in 2007, but later review by the league deemed it a clean play.
Adrian Wilson was talking about the NFL’s newest decision to ramp up suspensions for what are deemed “devastating hits and head shots” – the words of NFL VP of football operations Ray Anderson – when fellow safety
Kerry Rhodes wandered by.
“He’s going to be suspended,” Rhodes needled, and Wilson shook his head.
“No. Nooooo sir,” Wilson said, before re-considering. “Depends whether it’s with pay or without pay.”
It most certainly would be without, and Wilson doesn’t want anything affecting the checkbook (Wilson’s weekly paycheck this season is worth $352,941, nowhere near the $10,000 or $20,000 fine a player normally can incur). But the NFL’s quick and decisive choice to ramp up suspensions on questionable hits – “It has come out of nowhere,” Rhodes said – impacts the game and, possibly, the Cardinals, especially with a hitter like Wilson lurking in the secondary.
Either Wilson walks the tightrope of a lost game and lost wages – and as much as Wilson doesn’t want to lose money, he doesn’t want to let down his teammates more by missing a game – or the Cardinals lose a component of their defense.
“A-Dub, he’s one of those players you fear, and if you don’t have that fear going across the middle ...” wide receiver
There may have been a perfect storm of events this past weekend (ironically, when Wilson and the rest of the Cards were sitting out because of the bye) to get to this point. Already there has been plenty of talk about player health and safety, especially with the concussion issues. The choice by the NFL to go to suspensions is a direct result of concern for head shots players take and the problems that come from that.
Make no mistake, Wilson, Rhodes and Breaston all emphasized they understand the need for player safety. And that is apparent, too, with studies about brain trauma and the tragic paralyzing hit suffered by a college player this weekend.
But the Cards’ trio just isn’t sure how the crackdown will work in real life.
“You are changing mechanics, the way a guy is taught for years to tackle or to put a hit on someone,” Wilson said. “It’s a lot of stuff to think about, going into a game on Sunday and then, thinking about, if you get put in that situation, what do you do?
“You’ve got a receiver coming across the middle and you’ve got that blow-up shot, are you going to hit him up top, in the shoulders, or are you going to hit him in the stomach? Which one are you going to choose? That’s changing the hitting angle. To me, that’s kind of crazy.”
The defensive players know the fundamentals of tackling, Rhodes said, but that’s not what is going through a guy’s mind when trying to get an offensive player down. There’s never that much thinking going into it, a notion that made Rhodes smile.
“You’re not going in and saying, ‘When I take this 20-yard drop, the receiver runs this 15-yard dig, I’ve got to calculate my steps so I don’t hit them in the head, so three by the square root of 25 and OK, this hit is going to hit him in the stomach,’ ” Rhodes said. “No, you can’t do that. You have to try and be careful, and that’s tough.”
The rules haven’t been changed, per se, only the enforcement and potential penalty. Suspensions for questionable hits aren’t even new; for instance, Jets safety Eric Smith was forced to sit a game after his jaw-breaking hit on then-Cardinals wide receiver Anquan Boldin in 2008.
Coincidentally, it was Rhodes – then with the Jets -- who hit Boldin on the same play from the backside, and one of Smith’s arguments against suspension was that Rhodes’ hit a split-second earlier forced the helmet-to-helmet contact that ruined Boldin’s face.
Even now, Rhodes notes the quickness of it all, pointing out that a head might not be the target but a slight movement from a receiver can change the collision point in an instant.
There may be no easy answer, and regardless, this is the league these players are going to be in now. A play that could get a guy on a highlight film might also cost him a chance to play the following week – a notion that just doesn’t sound right to everyone.
“I think every player knows, when you play this game, it’s a violent game,” Breaston said. “I understand this. But as a player, everyone knows when you step on the field, it’s the way the game is. Almost like you’re signing a waiver when you walk out there.”
Including the postseason, the Cardinals are 23-1 under coach Ken Whisenhunt in games where they win the turnover battle.
Whisenhunt needs one win to tie Charley Winner as the third-most successful coach in franchise history with 35 victories.