Violence is inevitable part of NFL, plus 10 things to watch for Sunday
Keith Brooking: 'There is no way [to] prevent some of those hits from happening'
Tony Romo can't afford to make many mistakes Monday against Giants
Reunion Week in Chicago, Colt McCoy's big opportunity and much more
In conversations with several players this week, I got the strong impression that we're not going to see a radically different football game Sunday afternoon. Not at all. What may change is a decrease in headhunting, which is a good thing. The T.J. Ward hit on Jordan Shipley in the Cincinnati-Cleveland game three weeks ago -- despite Browns defensive coordinator Rob Ryan calling it textbook -- was an egregious shot at Shipley's head. The Brandon Meriweather hit on Todd Heap last Sunday, helmet to helmet, was a disgrace. I'd be surprised if we saw a hit like those on Sunday.
But there will be some big hits. They are unavoidable. And though I admire the league for trying to make the game less violent, it's always going to be violent, and there will come a day when another Darryl Stingley or Mike Utley or Dennis Byrd is in the headlines.
"There is no way you can prevent some of those hits from happening,'' Cowboys linebacker Keith Brooking said from Dallas Thursday night. "I know the Competition Committee has guys who know the game. I know [NFL VP of Operations] Ray Anderson, and I respect him. But this, to me, is a political agenda. They're trying to protect themselves. I agree with the emphasis on player safety, but let's face it: It's inevitable that someone's going to get hurt really bad out there. When? I don't know. But it's going to happen.''
I chose Brooking, 34, because I consider him a lover of the game like few others I've met over the years. He plays the game right, similar to many others in the NFL, with ferocity and respect. He's never cheap. In fact, his recollection is he's been fined only once for a cheap hit in his 13 years with Atlanta and Dallas, and that's when he was blocked and stumbled into Jake Delhomme's lower leg several years ago and got whacked $5,000.
I asked him how the NFL's video -- Ray Anderson narrating hits that were in violation of league rules and some that were legal -- went over when the team watched it Thursday. "Of the five or six examples they showed of bad hits, I think I agreed with two of 'em,'' he said. "The Meriweather hit I can see. And the kid from Cleveland. I see where they're coming from on those. The guys in the room agreed, I think. But the other ones ... The hit by James Harrison [on Cleveland's Mohamed Massaquoi coming across the middle], the Cleveland receiver lowered his head. He ducked his head. And you can see where Harrison was going to hit him was in a good place -- in the chest or shoulders, but definitely below his head. And at the last second, the receiver lowers his head, and Harrison lays into him. Sorry. That's not Harrison's fault. The guys, I think, agreed with me. It's subjective. It's not black and white. That's why this thing is so hard.''
Brooking said one thing that "surprised'' him and his teammates was the news from the league -- actually, it should be old news, a point of emphasis all players should have been told about in training camp -- that launching yourself at a defenseless receiver would be a penalty, even if it did not involve contact with the head. "The guys in our locker room didn't know about that whole launch thing,'' Brooking said.
What that says to me is the league has to do a better job informing players in camp about the new points of emphasis each year. The league has to make sure players don't use this time as a sleeping-through-a-league-rules-meeting thing. I doubt sincerely the league skipped Dallas on its official stops last summer. I know this sounds elementary, but I might consider quizzing players on rule changes each year. I'm always amazed how many rules the players don't know. Remember Donovan McNabb not knowing the overtime rules a couple of years ago? Players have to know the safety rules as they change from year to year, and the league has to do a better job of pounding the changes into them.
Brooking mirrors the rest of the league, though. He knows at the end of the day he's not going to have a job if he backs off a big hit of Brandon Jacobs or Ahmad Bradshaw on Monday night. That's why I think we're going to see some suspensions in the coming weeks. Two? Six? I don't know. But the game's not going to change appreciably. The sanctions will, but not the game.
Tony Romo, QB, Dallas.
Romo's completed at least two-thirds of his throws every week this season, a remarkable run of accuracy. But with seven picks, he's on pace to throw the most interceptions of his career, and he simply can't afford to make more than a mistake or two Monday against the defensively voracious Giants. There are times when stats don't matter, and one of those times is Monday night. Romo has to find a way to win a game his team has to have, or risk his team going down in the kind of defeatist spiral he -- and the team -- wouldn't be able to recover from this year.