Without knowing why, ears of NFL defenders may have perked up around the country Wednesday morning when Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer made a pitch to quarterbacks regarding player safety and the recent spate of suspensions for illegal hits this season.
Asked if he saw the illegal blindside hit on Packers receiver Davante Adams, who remains in the concussion protocol while Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis serves a one-week suspension, Zimmer said “the NFL is trying to do an awful lot on it.”
“I think it’s important we try to take the hits to the head out of the game best we can,” Zimmer said Wednesday. “You don’t want to see people get hurt or get injured.”
Players can do more to protect each other, Zimmer said, including setting a “screen” like basketball instead of going for the big shot when catching an unsuspecting player running backward.
Zimmer then gave an intriguing answer when asked how his opinion on hits changed in his 20-plus NFL seasons. The veteran defensive coach, currently calling plays for the league’s second-ranked defense, put the onus on the quarterbacks for some hits in the middle of the field.
“The whole league has changed in the 20 years I’ve been in the league you know,” Zimmer said Wednesday. “I guess I’m a defensive coach, a lot of times these quarterbacks throw the ball in the middle of the field and these safeties are coming to make a play on the ball. Quite honestly the ball shouldn’t have been thrown. Back in the day the ball wouldn’t have been thrown.”
“We have to adapt to the rules,” Zimmer continued. “And the hard part especially for the safeties is when they’re catching the ball and the guy is going down, you’ve lowered your target but he continues to go lower. Now you have to try to, in about the time it takes a golf ball to come off a club face, to move your target to another spot, which is almost totally impossible. I think they could take a bunch of these plays out if the quarterbacks wouldn’t throw the ball into places they shouldn’t throw the ball.”
Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo was suspended one game for a hit similar to what Zimmer described. Sendejo’s hit on Ravens receiver Mike Wallace came as the receiver was lowering his helmet and bracing for impact.
“I don’t know if it’s Sendejo’s hit,” Zimmer said, “but it’s something like that, yeah. You see it all the time. I think there was one the other night in the Tampa Bay game and Atlanta. That’s just my opinion, no one cares.”
Zimmer expanded when asked again.
“You hit here,” Zimmer said pointing to his shoulder, “and the helmet slides up and catches part of the facemask, then it’s helmet-to-helmet. And your target area is kind of small anyway. Back in the day in cover-3 they didn’t throw very many skinny posts. The receivers tell them don’t throw that ball, throw them on the outside – something like that. Anyway, it doesn’t matter.”
So what’s a catch?
“Yeah, don’t ask me,” Zimmer said.
How do Vikings coaches instruct their receivers on the rule?
“If you’re going to the ground the ball can’t move. Period,” Zimmer said. “I don’t want to get into it, but I kind of know what a catch is. I’ve been doing it for a long time. If the ball moves this much, it’s not a catch [even though] the guy caught it. Hey, I don’t care.”