clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Breaking down the call: Did the refs make up a 'roughness' rule against Ziggy Ansah?

New, comments

A breakdown of what could have been a crucial call against the Detroit Lions on Sunday.

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

As the Chicago Bears were driving on what could have been the game-winning drive over the Detroit Lions, Ziggy Ansah was called for a personal foul penalty that cost Detroit 15 valuable yards and a fresh set of downs. The hit Ansah made on quarterback Jimmy Clausen looked particularly brutal and actually gave Clausen a concussion, but was it illegal?

First, let's take a look at the actual hit:

ziggy hit 1

And from another angle:

ziggy hit 2

There are three important things to note about this play:

1) Ansah clearly leads with his head and initial contact is head-to-head.

2) Clausen is out of the pocket and is no longer considered a passer.

3) Ansah's leap and Clausen's slide are initiated simultaneously.

So now that we know the facts of what happened, let's be clear on what was called. Here are the referee's words verbatim:

"Personal foul, unnecessary roughness, defense. Number 94. Contact to the quarterback's helmet."

Right away, there's a problem. Under the "Unnecessary Roughness" section of the rulebook, there is no stipulation about contact to the quarterback's helmet. Don't believe me? Take a look:

roughness rules

Never is the word "quarterback" even mentioned. In essence, the referee just made up a rule. There is a stipulation (i) about contact to the helmet, but I'll get back to that in a second.

What the referee may have been thinking is the rule under the "Roughing The Passer" section of the rulebook (mind you, a completely different foul). Here's the wording of that rule:

A defensive player must not use his helmet against a passer who is in a defenseless posture—for example, (1) forcibly hitting the passer’s head or neck area with the helmet or facemask, even if the initial contact of the defender’s helmet or facemask is lower than the passer’s neck.

Ansah's hit certainly qualifies as "forcibly hitting the passer's head with his helmet"; however, there is one big problem: Clausen is no longer considered a passer on this play. Clausen is out of the pocket and past the line of scrimmage, so the roughing the passer rules no longer apply to him. The reason roughing the passer rules were created was to protect the quarterback while he is standing still, in a vulnerable position. As soon as Clausen leaves the pocket and starts running, he is no longer in a vulnerable position.

Now, let's go back to stipulation (i) in the unnecessary roughness section of the rulebook. According to the rulebook, you are not allowed to spear an opponent "unnecessarily." This is a gray area, but let's consider the situation in its entirety. The Bears are driving for a potential game-winning score. Clausen is extremely close to getting a first down. And Clausen's slide coincides with Ansah's attempt to tackle. Was that contact really unnecessary? Obviously, you cannot say for certain considering that is such a vague term, but in my opinion, Ziggy was in his right to do what he did according to that rule.

However, there is one final rule that applies to this play. It was not the foul that was called, but it is relevant:

Article 8: Initiating Contact with the Crown of the Helmet. It is a foul if a runner or tackler initiates forcible contact by delivering a blow with the top/crown of his helmet against an opponent when both players are clearly outside the tackle box (an area extending from tackle to tackle and from three yards beyond the line of scrimmage to the offensive team’s end line). Incidental contact by the helmet of a runner or tackler against an opponent shall not be a foul.

Ansah clearly initiates contact with the crown of the helmet and both players are clearly outside of the tackle box. The only gray area here is if the contact was incidental or not. To me, there is no debate. Ziggy leads with the crown of his helmet clearly attempting to make contact with Clausen. He may not have expected to hit Clausen in the head, but that is impossible to determine and irrelevant. It doesn't matter where contact was made, it matters that Ziggy led with the crown of his helmet, and that is a penalty.

Verdict: The call made by the referee was incorrect. There is no unnecessary roughness rule about "contact to the quarterback's head." However, Ansah initiated contact with the crown of his helmet and should have been called for "Initiating Contact with the Crown of the Helmet." That foul is 15 yards and an automatic first down.