Bouchette on the Steelers: Thought police coming to (ruin?) an Nfl player near you

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Not many seemed to find it troubling that James Harrison acknowledged pulling up rather than tackling Miami's Ronnie Brown on a play over the middle last Sunday. Larry Foote went ahead and made the tackle.

In fact, the majority seemed to think it was the smart thing to do by Harrison.

So, here you have a linebacker not wanting to tackle a running back because he admittedly feared the NFL crackdown on big hits? Harrison, mind you, wasn't planning on making an illegal hit on Brown. He planned to aim low. He said he was lucky he did not try to make the tackle because Brown then ducked low and it might have been a helmet-to-helmet collision.

So what?

Harrison made precisely the same kind of tackle against Joshua Cribbs in Heinz Field the previous week and the NFL quickly announced it was a legal hit, even though their helmets collided. Cribbs did not complain, either; in fact, he urged his old Kent State teammate to keep playing as he always has.

But Harrison has apparently decided discretion is the better way, even if his plans are perfectly legal by the NFL books and their hanging judges.

This is what the NFL crackdown has come to: Players now fear making perfectly legal hits. It is what Art Rooney feared when he spoke out about it 10 days ago.

The next question for the Steelers: Is a gun-shy James Harrison as good as the one before he was fined $75,000 for a hit against Cleveland? Not if he's going to pull off making the kinds of hits he made on Cribbs, nor the kind he should have made on Ronnie Brown in Miami.

Safety Troy Polamalu also seemed to pull back on at least one tackle. It occurred in the second quarter after Chad Henne, from his own 20-yard line, completed a 17-yard pass to Brian Hartline. Polamalu had a perfect shot at Hartline and did not take it.

Has the NFL successfully helped neutralize two Pro Bowl Steelers defenders with its crackdown? It's just one week, but there is video evidence -- and an admittance from one -- that Harrison and Polamalu shied away from tackles because of it.

In case you missed it ...

Some items that first saw the light of day in my PG Plus blog:

• Tony Romo got hurt on a good, clean tackle. He was not hit high, he was not hit low. He was tackled to the ground, which caused his broken collar bone. Time to eliminate that kind of tackling too; just put flags on the quarterback and be done with it already.

• Funny how Roger Goodell's hanging judge, Ray Anderson, has gone around patting himself on the back because there were no big hits Sunday and lauding how guys such as James Harrison pulled back rather than cream someone. The league office has just changed the game without ever getting approval from its constituent, the owners. They now applaud when defenders decide not to tackle someone because they do not want to draw the ire of the league, even if those tackles already have been deemed legal.

• You have to love Tom Coughlin, love how he coaches, love how he supports charitable causes so strongly. But the thing you have to love about him most is those looks of pain he gives on the sideline whenever something goes wrong for the Giants. I once spent a night with Coughlin, his wife and a few writers sharing drinks and laughs and there is much more to him than that look and his reputation as a stern taskmaster. But that look is precious.

• If the Steelers are going to lose one game during this stretch, tonight is the one they can most afford to lose since the Saints are an NFC team and there is no shame in losing to the Super Bowl champs on their turf with both of your starting defensive ends out. The following game, in Cincinnati, is more important. And, no, they probably won't go 15-1.

• Chad Pennington, Miami's backup quarterback and a longtime starter in the NFL, actually wants an official in a situation like the fumbledoozie from last Sunday's game to call something he did not see just so it makes it easier for a replay review.

"We've got to look at not worrying about whether the referee makes the call right the first time, make the correct call to allow it to be replayed. That's why we have instant replay, to get it right, not to still mess it up.''

Hey, why have officials make any calls? Let's just have replay review everything. With thinking like that, Pennington could wind up working in the NFL's football operations office.

Right and wrong at the same time

Don't point to the officials for the Steelers' "lucky" victory last Sunday. Their good fortune or the blame for however the game turned out falls directly on the shoulders of the instant replay system.

That system giveth and the system taketh away. And for the Miami Dolphins and Steelers, it did both on the same play.

Replay got it right when it overturned head linesman Jerry Bergman's call of a touchdown on Ben Roethlisberger's dive into the end zone -- the Dolphins' Chris Clemons knocked the ball out of the quarterback's hand just before he crossed the goal line. But instant replay was unable to determine who had possession once the ball popped loose.

Only humans could weed through the pile of bodies to try to determine who had the ball. And once they signaled "touchdown" there really was no need to do that. In a perfect world, the officials would have gone that extra step just in case, but that's not how it works in the real world.

Referee Gene Steratore, no matter where his hometown, made the correct call under those circumstances. He had no choice. Fumble, no known recovery, ball at the 1, fourth down. No one cheated anyone; it's just another failure of the instant replay system that everyone thinks is perfect.

Any coach I've ever known has been for instant replay, except for Chuck Noll, bless him. Their reasons were all the same -- they want to make sure the call is "right.'' Well, in this case it was, and it may have been wrong at the same time (if the Dolphins really recovered). Either way, Miami loses because the real officials thought it was a touchdown and the replay thought it was not, but nevertheless allowed the Steelers to maintain possession long enough to kick the winning points.

The real losers in the use of instant replay Sunday were those who bet on the Steelers and gave the three points. With no replay, they win by six. With it, they lose, as did the Dolphins either way.

For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette On the Steelers at . Ed Bouchette can be reached at .


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