This morning, the NFL confirmed that Terrell Suggs’s semi-late hit on Sam Bradford was incorrectly called roughing the passer, despite the Eagles’ belief that Suggs was intentionally targeting Bradford’s surgically repaired knee. Now Chip Kelly says the NFL’s interpretation of the play was incorrect, and that the league—and not just the fragile Bradford—is going to have some trouble if QBs are fair game like that.
NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino absolved Suggs for wrapping up Bradford’s legs after he had handed the ball off, citing the Eagles running a read-option—a play meant to deceive the defense into thinking the QB might still have had the ball. In that case, Blandino said, the quarterback is treated as a runner, without the special protections afforded QBs in the pocket.
There’s one problem with that, Chip Kelly says. Bradford wasn’t trying to fake anyone out.
“It was just a handoff,” Kelly said Monday. “Sam wasn’t going anywhere. I mean if you watched him, he handed the ball off.
“Not every shotgun run is a zone-read play. We didn’t run any zone-reads. We had this conversation last year, we don’t run as much zone-read as everybody thinks we do. We’re blocking the back side. [Bradford’s] not reading anything, he’s just handing the ball off.”
The play in question doesn’t necessarily have to be a zone read to leave the quarterback vulnerable, though. A 2012 officiating memo sent to teams in response to the proliferation of read-option offenses, clarified that QBs forfeit their pocket-passer protection with any attempt to trick the defense. “When a quarterback hands off and continues his fake,” the memo read, “his only protection is normal unnecessary roughness rules.”
Was Bradford going to commit to the fake? The issue here is that we have no idea—Suggs got to him too quickly to tell.
Once upon a time, before the NFL started emphasizing QB protection in order to encourage more offense, a bang-bang play like this was simple: no one would have dreamed of expecting a flag. But now that it seems like every little thing warrants a roughing-the-passer call, the NFL has a tough time delineating the border between a good hit and a late one. Kelly seems to want both pass rushers and officials to be mind-readers, which just isn’t realistic—he obviously wants a precedent that will protect Bradford going forward—and he wonders if the pendulum is swinging too far back the other way.
“Everybody in the league runs shotgun runs. Are they gonna hit every quarterback in the league when they hand off in the shotgun? That’s up to the league... I think it would be troubling for the league if every quarterback in the shotgun can get hit.”