Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs’ hit to the knees of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford on Saturday has sparked debate about when a quarterback is considered a runner and becomes fair game for defensive players.
Suggs was penalized for roughing the passer. But NFL officiating chief Dean Blandino said the referee was mistaken because Bradford, who handed off to Darren Sproles on the play, had not re-established himself as a passer.
Eagles coach Chip Kelly disagreed with Blandino’s interpretation, saying not every handoff by the quarterback is a zone-read play.
The back-and-forth is of interest to the Panthers, who have run the zone read effectively since drafting quarterback Cam Newton with the No. 1 pick in 2011. Panthers coach Ron Rivera indicated he agreed with Kelly, but said there is a lot of gray area.
“Part of it is just how obvious the handoff is. If the handoff has been given and the (quarterback) takes a second step, you’re not allowed to hit him,” Rivera said. “There’s a lot of interpretation on it. We try to make sure we’re aware of it, our quarterback’s aware of it and we try to take care of him that way.”
Rivera said the NFL sent teams a video last season to try to clarify the situations when quarterbacks can be hit without the ball.
“If he hands the ball off and continues the fake – you’ve got to be careful because some of these guys are really adept and good at faking the ball – then he becomes a live target,” Rivera said.