Although the Cleveland Browns exited Thursday night’s game the victors on the right side of a 29-17 scoreboard, it was not without casualties. The current AFC North leaders lost starting linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. following a screen pass early in the third quarter.
Facing a 2nd and 14, the Steelers ran a screen to running back Jaylen Warren, which worked superbly, picking up 35 yards in the process; right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor, however, was flagged on the play after hitting Walker, who went down and left the game with an injury.
But he wasn’t flagged for the hit, nor was he flagged for putting his body on top of him while Walker was down. Indeed, he was flagged for being an illegal man downfield. Nevertheless, with the injury timeout, the television broadcast debated which element of Okorafor’s hit on Walker would be the cause of the flag, which proved to be neither.
Asked about the play yesterday, and whether or not they would submit video of the play to the league for consideration of discipline being levied against Okorafor, Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski told reporters, “I will let the league handle those things”.
It’s a somewhat ambiguous answer, but of course the NFL reviews all plays from every game for consideration of discipline, most principally in the form of fines. Not all personal fouls called in-game end up being deemed worthy of a fine (or indeed even personal fouls), and there are certainly plays that were not penalized in-game that upon review are determined to have been illegal and warranting a fine.
“I was just playing ball. I couldn’t tell you what happened”, Okorafor said for his part about the play, according to Brian Batko of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. And indeed, because of the result of the play, it may well appear on the surface worse for him than it actually was. Or will be found to be. The fact that reporters even asked Stefanski about submitting tape to the league over the hit shows that as well.
Because it was a Thursday game, we might not know until late next week what the NFL made of Okorafor’s contact with Walker on the play. The Browns placed the veteran linebacker on the Reseve/Injured List yesterday with a torn quad, leaving the game on a cart with an air cast on his left leg.
Reviewing the play, it is frankly difficult to ascertain how and when the injury occurred. Okorafor actually hits the linebacker up high, with his left arm making contact with Walker in the head and neck area. This causes him to lunge backward, but by this point, his left foot already appears to have no longer been planted.
In fact, the more I watch it, the more I am convinced that he blew out his quad just before Okorafor hit him. It doesn’t appear that he initially expected the right tackle to peel off of a double team block and work to the second level and he tried to catch himself. That his left foot wasn’t planted also seems to indicate that he lifted it because he had already felt a snap. The way that he gingerly twists his leg as he’s going down also makes it clear that he was injured before Okorafor leaned on him or Daniels stepped on him, grazing his injured leg first and them stepping on the opposite.