Steelers linebacker James Harrison puts a hard hit on Browns wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi in the second quarter of Sunday's game at Heinz Field. Harrison was fined $75,000 for the hit.
By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
James Harrison's pleas that his hit Sunday was legal on a Cleveland receiver got nowhere with the NFL, which levied a whopping $75,000 fine on the Steelers Pro Bowl linebacker Tuesday.
Harrison's fine was the largest of three the league issued to players for what it termed illegal hits during games Sunday. New England's Brandon Meriweather and Atlanta's Dunta Robinson each were fined $50,000 for their hits.
Ray Anderson, the NFL's vice president of football operations, explained that Harrison received a higher fine because he is a repeat offender -- he was fined $5,000 for roughing the passer in the Sept. 19 game in Tennessee.
A hit by Harrison Sunday knocked Browns receiver Mohamed Massaquoi from the game at Heinz Field.
Harrison was fined not only for unnecessarily striking a defenseless receiver in the head and neck area, which violated two NFL rules for hitting high, but Anderson also cited the rule that a defender must give a player time to protect himself after making a catch before the defender launches into him and hits him high.
Anderson informed the three players by letter and included a warning that "future offenses will result in an escalation of fines up to and including suspension."
Harrison could not be reached for comment after the fine was announced late Tuesday afternoon. But, in an interview with the Post-Gazette earlier in the day, Harrison claimed his hit was legal and blamed the media for raising a stink against him.
"It was a legal hit," Harrison maintained. "All you have to do is look at the tape."
Coach Mike Tomlin reiterated Tuesday that he thought Harrison's hit on Massaquoi was "legal."
Harrison said he was not aiming for Massaquoi's head and actually tried to pull off of him. He believes he is being targeted because of media opinion against him.
"They're coming after me," Harrison said of the media. "If I get fined, it's because anybody out there who has camera in their face or a pen in their hand is writing their opinion, and it's all the same. I just happened to be one of the bigger names who hit somebody last weekend."
Harrison thought the hit by Meriweather on Baltimore tight end Todd Heap was much worse than his.
"My hit was nowhere near the magnitude of that," Harrison said. "That was a nasty hit."
Harrison, a three-time Pro Bowl linebacker and the NFL defensive player of the year in 2008, said defenders like him can't win no matter where they hit a ballcarrier. Hit him high, the league wants to fine them; hit them low, and the offensive player risks a knee injury.
Such was the case in the 2009 season opener at Heinz Field, when Harrison hit Tennessee tight end Bo Scaife so hard in the left leg that Scaife not only fumbled, but he did not return to the game. Scaife called the hit a "cheap shot." Titans coach Jeff Fisher, co-chair of the NFL competition committee that helps to shape the rules, firmly said it was not an illegal hit.
"I hit him low, and he ended up injuring his knee and was out for a number of games," Harrison said Tuesday. "I guess I'll end up having to take the fine and save someone's career."
Despite Scaife's outcry, Harrison said NFL players would prefer to be hit high than low and risk a knee injury.
"Ask any player in the NFL, they'd say that's dirty," Harrison said of a knee shot. "But the NFL says that's a legal play, but you can end his year if not his career. But, if you hit him up high and give him a concussion or whatever, they fine you for it. Now you have to start hitting guys low, and what then?
"We've had enough rules on how to tackle a quarterback, now we have to worry about what a guy does at the last second. If he puts himself in harm's way, now it's our fault."
Harrison said it's a frustrating dilemma for all defensive players.
"You can't go out and play like it's flag football," Harrison said. "If that's what they want to do, let's put flags on everyone.
"It's a physical contact sport; some things are going to happen. You have to evaluate things and see it for what it is and not go on the reaction of people who can't see what they're really looking at."
Harrison said he could understand suspending a player "if a guy is always doing illegal hits and that's his MO."
"I could see that," Harrison said. "But to suspend a guy who may have done it once or twice is going a tad bit far."
Harrison said he would appeal any fine the league issued.
"Who determines this hit was too violent?" asked Bill Parise, Harrison's agent. "We're not talking about helmet to helmet."
He said if the NFL continues to present defensive players with moving targets on where, when and how to tackle offensive players, "the guys who is going to get injured will be on defense. He has to make adjustments, slow down, try to alter his position of impact, and he'll be the one to get injured.
"James takes great pride in playing football the way the game's supposed to be played. He doesn't want to be thought of as a thug or dirty player."
Playing the way Harrison has played throughout the years, Parise said, is "how you go to Pro Bowls, that's how you become Defensive Player of the League. You don't do it by pulling a flag on someone's hip. Unless they change the entire makeup of pro football, how are they going to stop people from hitting?
"I think this is troublesome to a lot of people."
Harrison's troubles began in the second quarter of the game against Cleveland, when Harrison, according to Anderson, unnecessarily struck a defenseless receiver in the head and neck area. That action violated Rule 12, Section 2, Article 8 (g) of the NFL Official Playing Rules, which states that it is unnecessary roughness if the initial force of the contact by a defender's helmet, forearm, or shoulder is to the head or neck area of a defenseless receiver who is catching or attempting to catch a pass.
Anderson added that the action also violated Rule 12, Section 2, Article 8 (h) of the NFL Official Playing Rules, which states that if a receiver has completed a catch and has not had time to protect himself, a defensive player is prohibited from launching (springing forward and upward) into him in a way that causes the defensive player's helmet, facemask, shoulder, or forearm to forcibly strike the receiver's head or neck area -- even if the initial contact of the defender's helmet, facemask, shoulder, or forearm is lower than the receiver's neck.
Keisel won't face Dolphins
Tomlin declared defensive end Brett Keisel out of the game Sunday in Miami with a hamstring injury and said he will choose between veteran backup Nick Eason and Ziggy Hood, the team's first-round draft choice in 2009, to start in his place.
"Both are capable," Tomlin said. "Both are going to play. Who starts and who comes out of the tunnel is yet to be determined, but both guys are going to have to step up their performance if they're going to meet the standards we've come to expect when we see Brett Keisel play."
Tomlin said he did not know if the team would sign another defensive lineman while Keisel is out. The Steelers usually dress six defensive linemen for games, but they have only five without Keisel.
The coach also revealed that starting right guard Doug Legursky has a sprained MCL in his left knee but is expected to play, as is halfback Rashard Mendenhall, who has a bruised left shoulder.