Sam Bradford, Jason Peters, the officials working the Eagles vs Ravens preseason game Saturday night and virtually every Eagles fan here on BGN thought the hit Terrell Suggs delivered to Bradford in the first quarter was illegal.
According to the NFL's head of officiating, we were all wrong. Speaking on NFL Network this morning, Dean Blandino confirmed that the hit was indeed legal and a flag should not have been thrown.
"If the quarterback has an option, he's considered a runner until he either clearly doesn't have the football or he re-establishes himself as a passer," Blandino said. "So it's not a foul by rule. It's something that we'll make sure that we cover with our game officials because the defensive end coming off the edge, he doesn't know if the quarterback is going to keep it, he doesn't know if he's going to take off and run or drop back and so we treat the quarterback in that instance as a runner until he clearly re-establishes as a passer or until he clearly doesn't have the football."
The rule, as Blandino explains it here makes it hard to deny that the hit on Bradford wasn't legal. QBs are afforded special protection for low hits while they are in the pocket in a passing posture. Once they become a runner, they no longer have those protections.
In this case, Bradford did not attempt to reestablish himself as a passer and Suggs would only have had a fraction of a second to realize whether or not he still had the ball.
It's that definition of what makes the QB a runner that has been the grey area since Chip Kelly has installed the offense. Anecdotally, I've always felt like there's been an uneven application of the rule that has tended to assume that athletic QBs are more likely to be treated as a runner whereas the more traditional pocket passers have gotten the benefit of the doubt.
After the game, Suggs was adamant that his interpretation of the rule was right and issued a warning to the Eagles for using Bradford in a read option system.
"When you run the read-option, you have to know the rules," Suggs said. "If you want to run the read-option with your starting quarterback that has had two knee surgeries, that’s on you. That’s not my responsibility to update you on the rules.
Suggs may well be right. If Blandino is going to stress to his officials that QBs running the read option are fair game... Chip Kelly may need to rethink his approach because every pass rusher in the league will be licking his chops to take a shot on Bradford. These type of hits are only likely to become more frequent if pass rushers feel protected by the officials.