Iloka was trying to knock the ball loose to prevent a touchdown while Smith-Schuster was making a block on an active defender who reasonably still had a chance to make a tackle.
Both acts used to be legal but aren’t anymore because the NFL thinks it can convince the public the game isn’t really that dangerous if it just throws enough flags for stuff that looks bad regardless of intent.
(Or more likely they’re just trying to provide themselves legal cover when accused of not taking care of the players who don’t want to be taken care of in that way.)
Could both of them have done it less violently? Probably.
But violence is part of football.
Were they both trying to send a message with their hits? Probably — especially Smith-Schuster given his reaction and the recipient of the blow.
I am for limiting unnecessary roughness in the most extreme forms (intentionally hitting someone in the head, from behind, trying to take out knees, late hits, etc.), but I don’t think deciding to fire off punishment at everything in the gray area of the rules is productive at all.
Meanwhile, Rob Gronkowski gets the same punishment for something that happened after a play and was far more dangerous and out of line.
Regardless of how he might try to explain himself, what Gronkowski did was not a football play at all. He shouldn’t play again this season. There is no excuse for his action.
He saw someone who was literally defenseless (not the NFL’s moronic interpretation of that word) and with time to think about it did something that can only be interpreted as intended to hurt his opponent.
And beyond that, everyone seems to have already forgotten about the hit from Monday night that actually put a player in the hospital.
Unfortunately, Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier has a history of hitting people with the crown of his helmet. When he grabbed his back immediately, I thought he injured his spine and feared he had cracked vertebrae.
I didn’t need to be a doctor to know that was possible — I just had to remember a decades old video called, “See What You Hit” that explained how the physics of how that works.
The bones in the neck and back line up when a tackler goes in face down. That exposes the spine and can lead to everything getting dangerously compressed. Lots of things can go wrong then because that’s not how the body is designed to function.
And yet for all of the obviously warranted concern about Shazier now, those are hits that are never talked about even though they are the most dangerous of all.
I don’t bring that up to try to shame Shazier but because it’s an example of a larger problem: The NFL doesn’t seem to understand football anymore.