Suggs Hit Shines Light On QB Vulnerability

Courtesy of USA Today

Courtesy of USA Today

The rule, Dean Blandino stressed, is not new. It has been in place for some time and was clarified in 2012 “with the proliferation of these read option schemes”  shooting up from the college ranks to the pros. The vice president of officiating sent out a video late last week explaining exactly why the Terrell Suggs hit on Sam Bradford is considered clean and should not have been penalized.

“The key is, it doesn’t matter if this is a read option, zone read, or just a straight handoff from the shotgun, the protections are the same,” he said. “At the mesh point – so when the quarterback is holding the football in the belly of the back and it’s not certain as to who has the football — both players are treated as runners.”

Bradford mesh

“And until it’s clear that the quarterback doesn’t have the football or he clearly re-establishes himself in a passing posture, he doesn’t get the special roughing the passer protections.”

Bradford mesh 2

Bradford mesh 3

“So if you’re handing the ball off then you can be hit, whether you’re underneath the center, it doesn’t matter what run play you have,” said Chip Kelly on Monday. “It was explained to us: you can have your back turned to the defense and if there is potential for you to bootleg out of it, you can be hit.

“It has nothing to do with the play, I think that was the biggest thing we came away with. It doesn’t matter what play you’re running. If you’re handing the ball off and there is the potential that you can keep it on a bootleg or whatever, you can be hit. Those are the rules. We’ll practice with the rules they got.”

While the rule itself is not new, the Suggs hit shines a light on a point of vulnerability in the league-wide effort to protect its most valuable asset, the quarterback. Even Kelly didn’t seem to be totally clear originally on how far protections for the QB do or do not extend.

“If our quarterback hands the ball off and isn’t going anywhere, you shouldn’t be able to hit him,” he said last week.

“Are they going to hit every quarterback in the league when they hand off in the shotgun? That’s up to the league…It’d be troubling for the league if every quarterback in the shotgun can get hit.”

By clarifying that it is OK to go after the signal-caller between mesh point and passing posture, it’s fair to wonder whether there will be an uptick in the number of quarterbacks targeted when those situations present themselves in a game.

“They understand what’s going on as far as how vulnerable the quarterback is when they do that zone read stuff because us as defensive players, we’re licking our chops to go after a guy like that because they’re considered a runner and you can hit the quarterback without getting penalized,” said Brandon Graham.

Will teams alter their approach regarding zone read knowing the extent to which their QB is exposed?

“If you’re smart, you will,” said Graham, “and I believe Coach is very smart so I know he’s going to protect [Bradford].”

While the rule extends beyond zone read looks, it’s likely of particular interest to teams like the Eagles and Seahawks where the threat of a QB pull is more woven into the fabric of their offense.

“You can force this thing about they are a runner, (but) when they don’t have the ball in their hands, and the ball is already handed off and gone, guys need to make good decisions hopefully,” Pete Carroll said. “So we’ll be very much a part of that discussion if things continue like it’s going because it’s not right.

“We have been involved with that discussion with the league since Russell [Wilson] has been here. We’ve had the running quarterback and we’re really tuned into that.”

Wilson says that he doesn’t have any concerns. It’s a safe bet that Bradford does, particularly given that he is coming off a pair of ACL tears.

It will be interesting to see whether defenders go after the quarterback in handoff situations more this season, and how refs will handle it if they do. Jason Kelce, for one, believes the league will continue to side with the signal-callers.

“They’ve been making a big deal out of nothing really. That’s been the rule ever since this has been done. It’s being made a big deal out of because of the hit that Suggs had on Sam obviously. But I think even though the league has since come out and said that it was legal, there’s never been a doubt whether it’s legal or not, the biggest thing is whether it was a dirty play for him to go at the knees which will probably be evaluated in the future a little bit more rigorously,” he said.

“And if you look at the track record of the league, there is no shortage of them trying to protect quarterbacks. In the game there was a flag thrown. I would imagine that if it happened again a flag would be thrown. Now the refs might come back after the game and say, ‘Hey, that shouldn’t have happened. That’s not what we’re supposed to do.’ But the bottom line is refs are told to protect the quarterbacks in this league and I don’t anticipate this being any different.”