The Pittsburgh Steelers win Saturday night over the Cincinnati Bengals in one of the two AFC Wild Card games included a lot of controversy as it relates to penalties that were and weren’t called on both teams. One of the non-calls came after Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier hit Bengals running back Giovani Bernard up high following a short completion with 1:43 left in the third quarter. Bernard, who was injured on the play, fumbled the football following the hit and the Steelers defense recovered it.
Immediately after the play was over, Mike Carey, a former NFL referee, and Mike Pereira, the former Vice President of Officiating for the NFL, both concluded that Shazier’s hit, while unfortunate, was legal and that the fumble should stand after the play was reviewed. Since then, several have claimed that both analyst were wrong by pointing to different sections of the NFL rule book.
Late Monday evening, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk offered up his reasoning as to why Shazier shouldn’t have been penalized for his hit on Bernard.
First, Bernard had the ball long enough to become a runner. As a runner, he wasn’t defenseless. Since he wasn’t defenseless, he could be hit in the head or neck area, and with Shazier’s helmet.
Indeed, the fact that Bernard had the ball long enough to complete the catch and make his loss of possession a fumble means that Bernard had become a runner.
Second, the ban against use of the crown of the helmet doesn’t apply in a bang-bang situation. It requires the person delivering the blow with the crown of the helmet to “line up” the target. While close, that’s not what happened between Bernard and Shazier.
During a Monday interview on the Rich Eisen Show, Pereira talked extensively about several of the calls and non-calls in Saturday night’s game and that included him covering Shazier’s hit, which he still believes was legal.
“This is the crown of the helmet rule that was brought in 2013 and I was against the rule when it was brought in because it was really designed for when two players are lined up against each other like two rams with their heads down,” said Pereira. “It was for that type of direct contact. It wasn’t for when a player went sideways and in this case he turned around, spun around after the making the catch and was clearly a runner. The issue was that this rule is going to be so hard to officiate and that’s why when they brought in the rule there was two called in 2013. There were none called in 2014 and there have been none called in 2015. And I just don’t see it as the classic lineup, two guys face-up on each other and one guy lowering the head and making contact with the crown of the helmet.”
The more Pereira talked about the hit, however, the more confusing his interpretation of the rule is and he admits that this is something the competition committee will need to look at again during the offseason. It would be nice if Dean Blandino, the current NFL Vice President of Officiating, would chime in on this play in the coming days in order to clarify why the hit was or wasn’t legal.
If you have time on this Tuesday, I highly suggest that you listen to the entire interview with Pereira that I have included below.