During Sunday’s playoff game against the Los Angeles Rams, Detroit Lions safety Kerby Joseph tackled tight end Tyler Higbee with a blow to the legs that sent the Rams tight end flipping over onto his head. Days later, it was revealed Higbee tore his ACL on the play. Just a few weeks earlier, Joseph laid a similar tackle on Vikings tight end T.J. Hockenson, which also resulted in a torn ACL (and MCL).
That has led to some public scrutiny of Joseph and the Lions defense, with allegations of “dirty” play, despite the fact that those tackles are by the book completely legal.
On Wednesday, Lions coach Dan Campbell defended Joseph’s play.
“That’s how we play football here,” Campbell said. “Just keep your head up, see what you hit. That’ll always be what I tell Kerby. Just keep your eyes up so you don’t hit on the crown of your helmet, hit a spine, mess yourself up there. Just see what you hit. But, no, he’s going for the thigh board and staying away from the head. That’s how we play defense here. It’s not dirty. You know, we hit.”
On the Higbee hit, you can see that Joseph clearly does lead with the head down:
Rams believe TE Tyler Higbee tore his ACL after absorbing a low hit from Detroit safety Kerby Joseph, per sources. There will be additional testing to confirm the initial diagnosis. pic.twitter.com/ZnojOTMwci— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 15, 2024
There aren’t as many good angles of the Hockenson hit, but it certainly looks like a similar situation where, as Campbell explained, Joseph needs to do a better job protecting himself with his head placement.
The play where TJ Hockenson got hurt.— Ali Siddiqui (@asiddiqui15) December 25, 2023
Maybe it wasn’t Kerby Joseph’s intent to hurt him, but he definitely didn’t have to go that low. He was already in good position to make the tackle without doing that. #vikings
It’s worth noting that there have been some who have come to Joseph’s defense, including Vikings safety Harrison Smith, who notes NFL rules have given defensive backs little choice in these situations.
They aren’t very similar plays…do I like the Joseph hits? No.— Harrison Smith (@harrismith22) January 16, 2024
But coach him up…what would you recommend he do?
The rules have encouraged more hits like that from the DB position…most effective way to protect that area of the field without penalty… I don’t like it either
Teammate Alex Anzalone also came to Joseph’s defense, after the Lions safety tried to explain that his intention was never to injure anyone.
Don’t even need to comment on it. It’s how the league office asks us to tackle— Alex Anzalone (@AlexAnzalone34) January 15, 2024
Joseph was not fined for his hit on Hockenson.