Wednesday, October 20, 2010 9:30 AM
By Rich Tandler
Suspensions for violent hits not new
The NFL has put out word of a new policy that will lead to suspensions of players who are judged to be guilty of helmet-to-helmet hits. Only it's not a new policy. Ask Mark Carrier. Carrier finished up an 11-year NFL career with the Redskins in 2000. He was one of the lesser known players in Dan Snyder's fantasy free agent class that also included Jeff George, Bruce Smith, and Deion Sanders. The former Bear (1990-1996) and Lion (1997-1999) came in with a reputation for being a hard'and not always clean'hitter. It took exactly one game for him to live up to his reputation. Late in the second quarter of the season opener against Carolina, Panthers quarterback Steve Beuerlein threw a pass intended for Wesley Walls. The tight end had to wait for the ball and Carrier raced up from behind. The safety and the ball arrived at the same time. Carrier's facemask hit the back of Walls' helmet, and that and the rest of the ensuing collision knocked the ball loose. It also knocked Walls to the ground and he stayed there for several minutes before walking off under his own power. No flag was thrown. Walls played the next game. But the NFL offices took note. They notified Carrier and the Redskins of a one-game suspension early in the week following the game. After an appeal was denied, Carrier spoke about the incident and the suspension. "I play football, made a play on the ball, knocked the ball down, and me and the gentleman collided," he said. "I thought I'd at least show them what happened and go from there. But I've been through it enough times, and I know what to expect from the league." Speaking on a subject about which he knew very little, Sanders chimed in "It wasn't like Mark really tried to hit him. If he had tried to hit him, he probably would have really laid him out. But he was going for the ball. He really had his hand stretched out on the ball. It was an awfully good football play." Carrier referenced having been through it before. According to the AP article on the incident, that was his fifth suspension for Carrier for similar incidents. He also was suspended for a game in October of 1998 when he was with the Lions. Tampa Bay's Brice Hunter suffered a concussion in that collision. Carrier was fined for a violent hit to Green Bay wide receiver Antonio Freeman in 1999. I was unable to locate references to any other suspensions. The New York Times article on the 1998 suspension said that it was the first suspension for an on-field hit since 1992. It's possible that the other suspensions took place prior to that. Carrier came into the league in 1990. So we are supposed to believe that the NFL is really, really serious about cracking down on violent hits. And we see that they did in the early 1990's and then again in the late 90's and in 2000. It's like a city that places speed traps around town after a particularly bad accident gets a lot of headlines. For a while, everyone is concerned about it and people drive slower. Then the speed traps disappear after a week or two, and a few weeks after that people are driving just like they did before the speeding crackdown began. The NFL will not stop illegal hits with occasional strict enforcement of the rules. We won't know if the league is really serious about the issue until 2012 and beyond.Carrier currently is the defensive line coach for the New York Jets.Late drive in medium speed One piece of business that needs to be cleaned up before the Colts game fades from the rear view mirror is the Redskins' last touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. Trailing 27-17, the Redskins got the ball on their own eight-yard line. In a drive that consumed 5:55, they moved 92 yards to score a touchdown with 2:51 remaining. In the postgame chat, there were several complaints about how long the drive took. NBC announcer Chris Collinsworth said a couple of times that the Redskins were moving too slowly. I have to say, I don't see a big problem with the drive. Consider a few factors here. There was only one clock-stopping incomplete pass during the drive. The only other time that the clock stopped was for a holding penalty that nullified a Donovan McNabb touchdown run. So we're talking about six-and-a-half, maybe seven minutes of real time to drive 92 yards. Counting the play that was nullified by penalty, the Redskins ran 13 plays on the drive or a play every 27 seconds. The longest drive in terms of time for the Colts, who approach every series with a sense of urgency, consumed 4:30 and took nine plays. That's 30 seconds a play. To be sure, Peyton Manning was not behind by two scores at the time, but I bring it up for comparison. You certainly can get plays off at a pace that is quicker than one every 27 seconds with the clock running almost constantly, but not much quicker. The play itself takes five to seven seconds. It takes another five seconds or so for the officials to spot the ball and get it ready for play. If you substitute personnel, you have to give the defense a chance to do the same, and that's another few seconds. That leaves you with 15 seconds to line up and call a play. Going no-huddle there might have saved a few seconds a play, but it also may have limited the playbook and the drive may not have been as efficient. McNabb was 10-of-11 and the Redskins didn't face a single third down. And they scored a touchdown with 2:51 remaining and still had all three of their timeouts. That would be enough time to score if they could force a three-and-out, a minimal amount of time for Manning to answer. It wasn't the perfect drive, but it didn't warrant the criticism it received. Back down on third down After having a good week converting third downs against the Eagles three games ago, the Redskins have reverted to the form that has them among the worst in the league in that category. The Redskins converted 4-of-13 third downs against the Colts or 31 percent. That's only slightly better than their season stat of 27 percent. That's 29th in the NFL, and the league average is around 40 percent. Early in the season, the Redskins' issue was that they had very few third-and-short situations to convert. Third-and-eight, obviously, is more difficult to convert than third-and-two. But the issue last Sunday wasn't a lack of third-and-short situations. Of the 13 third downs, the Redskins needed five yards or fewer to pick up the first down on six. They got three of them, and while you'd like to get one more, 50 percent is not horrible. The problem was that they went 1-for-7 on third-and-six-or-more to go. The Redskins converted their very first opportunity from that distance, getting 11 yards on a McNabb to Moss pass on third-and-10 at the Washington 43. And that was it. Keiland Williams ran on one third-and-long, a draw on third-and-17 to try to get some punting room. McNabb dropped back to pass on the other five occasions and was 0-for-4 with a sack. The offense will continue to sputter if they can't find a way to convert third-and-long at least one out of every three or four tries. Bears sacks and third downs Chicago quarterbacks have been sacked 27 times through the first six games of the season, the most in the NFL by a substantial margin. The Eagles have given up 20, the second most in the league. Washington is tied for eighth worst in this category with 17. In what certainly is a related stat, the Bears have converted just 18 percent of their third downs. In six games, they have just 13 third-down conversions. Without looking, I'll guess that teams have converted 10 third downs in a single game a few times this year. It's certainly a case of negatives feeding off of each other. Jay Cutler gets sacked so they're in long-yardage situations. Because they are in third-and-long, the other teams know they have to pass and let the pass rush loose. Lucky or good? The Redskins' offense has fumbled seven times this season, and only one has wound up in the hands of the opposition. That was Santana Moss' first quarter fumble against the Rams. Washington's opponents have coughed up the ball 11 times, and the Redskins have pounced on seven of those loose balls. If you add it up, you have 13 Redskins recoveries of the 18 total fumbles in their games, or 72 percent. The stat heads will tell you that fumble recoveries essentially are random events and that, over time, a given team will recover the ball about half of the time it hits the ground during the course of its games. So the Redskins should enjoy their good fortune while it lasts.