Brian Urlacher isn't the first player to acknowledge that faking injuries can help a defense. (Nam Y. Huh/AP)
There is a long history in the NFL of defensive players faking injuries to slow down high-tempo, no-huddle offenses -- from the Seahawks directing defensive tackle Joe Nash to repeatedly flop in a 1989 playoff game against the Bengals, to the Giants allegedly feigning injuries against the Rams in September 2011. It is no surprise to those in the know, in other words, that not all defensive injuries are on the level.
Former Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, who retired in May after a Hall of Fame career and is now an analyst for FOX Sports, said on Wednesday that the Bears' defense he used to lead was familiar with such tactics.
Urlacher said that, while the practice wasn't coached, players on the field would know to use it when they saw one of the Chicago coaches mimicking a diving motion on the sideline. There was a "designated dive guy," Urlacher said, adding that the tactic was most beneficial early in the season, as well as on long drives when defensive players are fatigued.
It's a subject that the league's Competition Committee has discussed on several occasions, and after the infamous New York-St. Louis game in 2011, the league sent out a "zero-tolerance memo" to address it.
Going forward, be advised that should the league office determine that there is reasonable cause, all those suspected of being involved in faking injuries will be summoned promptly to this office ... to discuss the matter. Those found to be violators will be subject to appropriate disciplinary action for conduct detrimental to the game.
We have been fortunate that teams and players have consistently complied with the spirit of the rule over the years and this has not been an issue for the NFL. We are determined to take all necessary steps to ensure that it does not become an issue.
The NFL has never disciplined a team based on that memo, and given all the injury litigation currently swirling around the game, the league may not have the stomach to question a player's injury anyway.
Mostly, the flops are discussed and executed with a nod and a wink. The Rams played the Ravens the week after the Giants game, and Baltimore defensive end Terrell Suggs talked quite openly about the possibilities.
"That's a great tactic," Suggs said back then. "I may do it. I may do it, because you've got to stop the game if you're hurt. If it works, it works ... Don't be surprised, you'll see old 55 [Suggs' number] get a nice little hammy."
But Baltimore defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano (now the Colts head coach) was appalled by New York's lack of subtlety.
"[It] wasn't choreographed very well, if you watch the tape," he said. "I've heard of guys doing things like that. We would never do anything like that here. You know, you watch it, and it's right there and you see it, and it is what it is. Obviously, reading the letter that we got from the Commissioner and their stance on it, how they're going to penalize teams if they catch them doing it, it's just not something that we would do or ask our guys to do. You've got to play. If they go no-huddle, we have to respond."
That response may include, as Urlacher stated, some tactics that might be considered underhanded -- whether the NFL likes it or not.