T.J. Ward hit on Ogletree: A Rules Discussion

There will be a lot of talk about the hit that T.J. Ward hit on Cowboys receiver Kevin Ogletree. You may not like the rules, but the latest NFL rules give referees latitude to call unnecessary roughness in their judgement at basically any time at all. So all the talk about whether T.J. Ward hit Ogletree in the chest or not is moot, unfortunately. Don’t mistake my explanation as justification for the rule. I don’t particularly like the rules, but it is important to understand them.

From the official NFL rulebook, emphasis mine.

Penalty: For unnecessary roughness: Loss of 15 yards. The player may be disqualified if the action is judged by the official(s) to be flagrant.
Note: If in doubt about a roughness call or potentially dangerous tactics, the covering official(s) should always call unnecessary roughness.

And from the section on defenseless players, which Ogletree clearly was…

(2) A receiver attempting to catch a pass; or who has completed a catch and has not had time to protect himself or has not clearly become a runner. If the receiver/runner is capable of avoiding or warding off the impending contact of an opponent, he is no longer a defenseless player;

And a bit more on defenseless players…

(b) Prohibited contact against a player who is in a defenseless posture is:
(1) Forcibly hitting the defenseless player’s head or neck area with the helmet, facemask, forearm, or shoulder, regardless of whether the defensive player also uses his arms to tackle the defenseless player by encircling or grasping him; and
(2) Lowering the head and making forcible contact with the top/crown or forehead/”hairline” parts of the helmet against any part of the defenseless player’s body.

This last part is particularly popular to quote when trying to defend hits, but this clearly isn’t defensible contact in the new NFL. While T.J. Ward’s hit wasn’t the textbook definition of prohibited contact on a defenseless player in the last bit, it is superceded by the first part that gives referees to levy penalties basically whenever a play passes the eye test for unnecessary roughness.

Even the most defensive of Browns fans must admit that the play looked really violent and bad. The only choice for big hitting defensive backs like Ward is to save those jarring hits for players who have already caught the ball and are making football moves. When he is arriving so close to the time where the ball is arriving he needs to only make plays on the ball, it would seem. This is the new NFL and I know it takes some getting used to, but it won’t ever go back.

  • thepaledragon

    Agreed on all points. That is an obvious time to throw a flag. Ward went high. The only way he has a chance of getting away with that is if he wraps up and drives Ogletree down.

    The fact that Skrine came flying in made the aftermath look bad, which just further reinforces that the ref should throw the flag. It was Skrine’s impact that knocked Ogletree out, not Ward.

  • JK

    Absolute garbage. If it was called the way it was supposed to be, fine, but that doesn’t make it any less of a BS call. What in the hell was TJ supposed to do?! He got low, & drove his shoulder into Ogletree’s chest. Short of just standing there or laying down in front of him as to trip him, I see no other options to try to defend that pass. The NFL really is going way over board with these types of penalties it’s a shame that you see at least 1 per week per game.

  • Natedawg86

    I saw this in a completely different way. I thought Ward was going for the ball and the WR ran into him. How is that Ward’s fault?

  • Natedawg86

    If he would have wraped up, he would have broke his back. Skrine was way overmatched. I thought Basemosi played ok towards the end. Patterson is old and can’t keep up.

  • Hopwin

    Because TJ turned his back on the ball. Look at the replay above. You can’t say he was making a play for the ball if he turns away from it.

  • deg4

    Oh, so the Ravens jarring the ball lose twice in a row on the Steeler’s final drive last night both could have been called the same way? I don’t think so.

  • S-Dub

    Ward and the WR met almost simultaneously. Ward didn’t lower hit head or shoulder and could’ve had a play on the ball. Bad call because they didn’t call a defenseless receiver penalty on the Dallas S who crushed Watson in the End Zone on the TD while he was in the air. Same situation and 2 diff calls. Absolutely ridiculous. No way should Ward be fined.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Last time I checked football by nature was all but defenseless I understand safety but the NFL is really going to an extreme measure. You can clearly see Ward hitting Ogletree, in the chest, just as the ball goes off his fingers. Ward’s job is to prevent Ogletree from making the catch while not hitting him above the shoulders which he clearly does, for me. Bad call.

  • mgbode

    given the 3 players colliding, i don’t know if he could have physically wrapped up. i doubt he was trying to, but that’s alot of force happening.

    as it stands, I think it was a bad call (if he catches the ball, then no flag but he doesn’t so it’s a flag? how does the competition committee say that with a straight face?). but, I also understand calls like that will be made moving forward.

    there were much more egregious calls in this game anyway.

  • mgbode

    I agree, he put his shoulder down to make the hit. However, if he doesn’t do that, then he ends up hitting Ogletree in the head inadvertantly (he would have been higher as he bent his knees and dropped his shoulder into his chest).

    Not much he could do there other than trying to jump the route for the ball and miss Ogletree entirely (and he would have been too late to do that).

  • Natedawg86

    Seperate the man from the ball…

  • Natedawg86

    But Watson is a TE, he caught the ball, and he didn’t lay down on the field long enough

  • Hopwin

    I hate being the odd man out, every time I see the replay above I don’t see shoulder to chest. I see TJ dropping his shoulder so that Ogletree’s head smashes into TJ’s helmet facemask first.

  • Interesting point… I didn’t see those plays, but went back and found them. The first one on the tight end, he really lays him out. I guess he came from the side and not toward his front? The second one he hit him in the back. I have no idea what the difference is to be honest. Neither one of these hits was flagged.

    The only thing I can say is that again the rules allow for ref judgement and something about yesterday’s hit by Ward made them throw the flag.

  • mgbode

    hard to see in the replay above and it’s why I understand how the penalty was called. however, on replays during the game yesterday it was very clear that it was shoulder into the chest.

  • Goldson had an incredibly similar hit (even launched himself more than Ward) not flagged against the Cards earlier in the season so it grates that it got called (the league even reviewed it). Had a discussion with others and it was pretty much unanimous that the Goldson hit was clean

    What was infuriating was seeing calls in the game get called correctly/completely differently in other games over the weekend.

  • woofersus

    Yeah, the gif looks worse than the actual slowmo replay on tv did. The contact to his head actually came from behind from Skrine, and that was obviously accidental. My problem with the way such hits are called is that they so often depend on how violent it LOOKS in real time to the officials. The end result is that regardless of technique it’s how hard the hit is that gets the flag. Slow motion replay revealed that Ward went down and hit him in the chest with his shoulder, very near where the ball was bouncing off his hands, and because of unfortunate circumstances another accidental hit came from behind. If that warrants a call, it’s because of the leeway granted to the officials, not because it’s explicitly spelled out in the rules.

  • Natedawg86

    Wow my comment was more of a joke…but it could be argued(his hands were close to where the ball is) that he put his shoulder down to protect himself. Had he (ward) fell down, prob no call. Either way, hard call to make, not a blatent attempt to hurt the WR, but more of an attempt to break up the play. Just give them a set of flags and be done with it.

  • porckchopexpress

    This is part of the mess the NFL got itself into when it handcuffed DB’s playing pass defense. Since a DB can’t do anything remotely close to contacting a WR before the ball is thrown they began attempting to time big hits to dislodge the ball immediately after the WR touches the ball. So you get what we had here today, which is the way he wants – well – he gets it. Sorry got carried away. Anywho, if you let the DBs have more contact while the routes are being run, you will decrease the number of these types of plays.
    For what its worth we’d better all just get used to it, because with the class action lawsuits and the increasing research showing how dangerous football is, the big hit days are coming to a close real quick. Peter King just ran a story today where a doctor – I believe its someone working with the NFL – suggested that children should not be allowed to play tackle football until they are at least 14, because their brains are so fragile before that. Point being, if the game is going to survive it is going to have to undergo the most radical change any sport has ever done.

  • tonton

    the way you say it sounds like ogletree and Skrine faked it. What made the ref throw the flag in my opinion is the fact that you clearly see that the player is knocked out. And honestly i find it disturbing…. I’m not against some good hitting and tackling but when i see players “drop dead” on the field it creeps me out! So I guess this call is questionable regarding the hit but if i’m the ref i’d probably have thrown it too!

  • C-Bus Kevin

    I totally agree with your point about the contact before the throw. Pass interference is a relatively modern addition to the game. In my opinion, they would have a lot less devastating hits if DB’s were just allowed to impede the progress of the receiver before and during the throw. A big part of why these hits are so bad is the fact that these freakishly talented athletes are allowed, by rule to get up to full speed while running their routes.

    Step 2…change the safety gear. Softer helmets and less padding will discourage DBs from hurling themselves at receivers. I’ll get the rugby argument from some people, but I think it would help overall.

  • C-Bus Kevin

    As it’s been stated below, I think there are some simple ways to limit these devastating hits.

    Step 1: Remove illegal contact and pass interference rules. These are relatively new additions to the game. If players weren’t able to run free at top speed, they wouldn’t have nearly as many of these collisions. The current rules are basically setup to encourage a massive collision at the point of the catch, and the NFL LOVED that until a few years ago (see ESPN’s “jacked up!” segment). As a side benefit, we would lose the unfortunate “jump ball” pass interference penalties that favor the offense so heavily.

    Step 2: Change the helmets and pads. With a softer helmet, defensive players would be less likely to launch themselves at WRs. Right now, there is virtually no way for a defensive player to be hurt on a hit, because they are the ones engaging said hit, and they decide which part of the helmet (usually facemask or crown) will hit the receiver (who is often struck in the chin, neck, or ear).


  • C-Bus Kevin

    Ahhhh Tonton…you have come to the immoral center of the NFL’s dilemma.

    Refs throw the flag when the result of the play is WR quivering in a heap of pain and semi-conciousness. The practice is their way of saying “That’s just awful, what you did there you terrible DB!”

    The penalty is their lame attempt to remove all guilt. They are saying “it wasn’t the game! It was that reckless PLAYER that caused the damage. And THAT, your honor, is why we do not owe Mr. Ogletree any damages.”

    As a side note…this is why amateur college football is doomed.

  • Natedawg86

    Easy with the “drop dead” there fella. Its football not WAR. People are not dropping dead on the football field. Defenders get paid to hit the offensive players. Hopefully you have nothing to do with football, because your statement that “ref throw the flag in my opinion is the fact that you clearly see that the player is knocked out,” is so wrong. If it is a penalty, throw a flag, not because someone got hurt. There is a lot of conversation here because the call could have went either way.

  • clevfan

    The “defenseless receiver” concept didn’t make any sense to me when the Browns got flagged for it in the 2002 divisional game, and it doesn’t make any sense to me now.