The NFL's rapid response to Week's 6 spate of collisions involving players who delivered damaging hits to the head will not prompt a bevy of mid-game ejections or any overreaction by game officials, the league's former vice president of officiating, Mike Pereira, predicted Tuesday.
"I don't think it's going to be that different,'' said Pereira, who left the league earlier this year and now serves as a rules analyst for Fox's NFL coverage. "The only type of devastating hit from last weekend that would bring an ejection would be the one by [Patriots safety] Brandon Merriweather [on Baltimore tight end Todd Heap], where the player literally leaves [his]feet, launches himself and hits someone head to head in midair. That's the egregious, intentional act that will bring an ejection.''
(Editor's note, 5:35 p.m., Tuesday: NFL fined, but did not suspend three players for dangerous hits.)
While Pereira acknowledges the NFL will significantly stiffen its discipline of players guilty of hits using their helmet, with suspensions for even first-time offenders, as well as larger fines and suspensions for repeat offenders, he does not foresee the league's new emphasis creating a dilemma for game officials who have to determine what constitutes an ejection-worthy hit.
In other words, to paraphrase what Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart once famously said about the definition of hard-core pornography, officials will know it when they see it.
"That's exactly right,'' Pereira said. "They're not going to overreact. What's going to happen is you're going to see a Merriweather-type hit, you're going to see three flags go flying, and then they'll discuss it and hand down the ejection. When it's that bad, four or five officials are going to see it, and it's going to strike them as being absolutely a devastating hit. And maybe devastating is not the right word, but it's going to be leaning toward that act where a player leaves his feet and intentionally launches himself at another player, striking the guy in midair.''
In the case of Dunta Robinson's crushing hit on Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson on Sunday in Philadelphia, a blow that left Jackson with no memory of the play and a severe concussion, Pereira said he did not think such a collision would merit an ejection of the Atlanta cornerback.
"I don't think the hit on DeSean Jackson becomes an ejection,'' he said. "That's at field level and it's just a bang-bang play. He [Robinson] did lower his head at the very end of the play, but that's not going to strike you as an ejection. You're going to have to see a player leave his feet and intentionally deliver a helmet-to-helmet shot.''
As the NFL's vice president of football operations Ray Anderson emphasized in a Tuesday morning appearance on ESPN radio, Pereira pointed out that no league rules are changing. There will just be a stricter enforcement of the existing rules.
"The current language is fine, and we know that the rules do allow for an official to eject a player if it's a flagrant hit,'' Pereira said. "What's going to change is the discipline. They haven't suspended people in the past for first-time offenses. But that's out the window now. If it's egregious enough, they're going to consider suspensions for a first-time offense. And they're going to ramp up the discipline for the repeat offenders.
"Which is why if I'm James Harrison [the Steelers linebacker who knocked two Browns players out of the game with head injuries Sunday], I'm a little bit nervous right now. Because he's also the guy who picked up [Titans quarterback] Vince Young and body-slammed him in Week 2.''
Pereira said the league is not likely to take lightly Harrison this week saying he attacks ballcarriers with the intent of hurting them and putting them out of the game, drawing a distinction between that and injuring someone. Pereira noted that Harrison's hit of Cleveland's Josh Cribbs did not seem illegal to him because Cribbs was not a defenseless ballcarrier, but Harrison later hit receiver Mohamed Massaquoi with his helmet and should have been penalized by the officials.
Both Harrison and Merriweather are expected to receive suspensions and/or significantly increased fines from the league office in reaction to their egregious hits Sunday, possibly as early as Tuesday afternoon.
"They're not talking about these new discipline policies as if they apply to next week,'' Pereira said. "That line is being drawn immediately. They're talking about what to do about last week. Harrison's second hit could certainly merit a suspension and a real ramped up fine. Especially after he threw Vince Young on his head earlier this season.
"I don't think you're going to see typical fines handed out any more to repeat offenders. And [Harrison] might have thrown his own rear end in hot water when he said he's out to hurt people. There was no attempt to wrap up and tackle, it was just lower his head and hit them in the ear hole. I don't think the league is going to say that's OK and move on. Is that what we want to have the players in the NFL role-modeling during the course of a game, that kind of hit?''
While the league has empowered officials to hand out game ejections for egregious hits to the head or helmet in the past, Pereira said during his stint in the NFL, officials were hesitant to take such a drastic step due to the impact on the game's competitiveness.
"You hate to get involved in ejections, because you already play with a 45-man roster on game day,'' he said. "Ejections are a real competitive issue. Officials felt it was better not to do it and then let the league hand out tougher discipline if need be. And you could eject a guy and then later discover it was a shoulder hit to the chest, and not the head. Then you've impacted the game and maybe made a mistake that could affect a team for three quarters or more. That's a real competitive disadvantage. That has always been a consideration.''