Defensive players have an “obligation to protect themselves” against potential career-impacting injuries, such as the broken ankle 49ers nose tackle Ian Williams recently sustained, St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher said Tuesday.
Fisher, along with Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis, is one of just two NFL coaches on NFL’s competition committee. He said plays like the cut block Seattle Seahawks guard J.R. Sweezy executed against Williams is discussed every offseason with the NFL Players Association and coaches sub-committee.
“But we’re dealing with a situation where a defensive lineman has an opportunity to protect himself and knows there’s a potential for a low block,” Fisher said on a conference call with Bay Area reporters.
“And the general feeling is, if you take that block -- the cut block in the run game -- out of the game, then you’re going to significantly impact the run game. That’s been the committee’s feeling, and coaches’ feeling and the players association’s feeling. It’s unfortunate there are going to be injuries that take place in the game, and the committee’s No. 1 focus is on player safety, and the committee has done a really good job from that standpoint. “
Sweezy’s block, in which he dove at Williams’ ankles from behind, was ruled legal. He was not penalized or fined.
“I have not seen the play, so I’ll have to reserve judgment on it,” Fisher said. “But in-line play, from a run game standpoint, as long as we know what the rules are. ... You can’t have the chop with one man removed on the back side. But in-line cut blocks are permissible.
“And defensive players know it’s coming and they anticipate it and they have the obligation to protect themselves.”
Williams underwent surgery on his broken left ankle. He was placed on season-ending injured reserve.
The play sparked outrage in some corners, including from six-time Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis, who called those kinds of blocks "uncalled for."
"I feel like as a linebacker or a D-lineman, any cut, it’s a man sport – be a man, hit me up high,” Willis said. “Hit like rams. You don’t see a ram going and cutting another ram’s legs. They hit head to head, pad to pad.
“I feel like that’s something the league should look into more. You see some of that stuff, and it’s uncalled for. You have a guy who’s 300 pounds cutting a guy who’s 250 pounds. Do physics to that. Hit the man up high. It should be a good collision.”