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Were the Colts’ hits on Alex Smith on Sunday dirty?

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Kansas City Chiefs v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

During yesterday’s game, Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith took two hits that resulted in him being evaluated for a concussion at two different points in the game. He wound up playing only 29 snaps and Nick Foles did well in his absence, but it has left some people upset that the hits weren’t penalized.

One of those people seems to be Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, as he said today that “I enjoy my money to much” to comment about his thoughts on the hits, meaning that he didn’t want to criticize the officials and thus receive a fine.

But were the hits actually dirty? That’s much tougher to say.

On the first hit, Edwin Jackson was the one who made the tackle, and he squared up Smith as the quarterback was sliding. It didn’t look malicious, but the problem is this: Jackson was squaring up to make the tackle on a ballcarrier, and he was aiming for Smith’s midsection like a good tackle is (because you don’t want to go high or low). But Smith started to slide just as Jackson was doing this, so as Smith went the ground his head then came into the position to be hit by Jackson on what would have otherwise been a perfectly good hit. So while we’ve seen players be penalized for that before, it’s incredibly tough to consider it “dirty” because it didn’t look malicious but it’s perfectly explainable that it happened in the field of play.

It’s also important to mention that the play was called consistently within the game yesterday, as a bit later Andrew Luck took a very similar hit on a slide that elicited boos from the home crowd but that also wasn’t penalized. So credit the officials in this matter: they called it consistently within the game, even if you’d argue that it’s not called consistently around the NFL from game-to-game or week-to-week.

On the second hit, Smith was again sliding (on a very curious designed quarterback run play call) and was hit by Clayton Geathers, and this seemed to be the hit that drew the most ire from Chiefs fans. Here’s a video of that hit:

According to some, Geathers slammed Smith’s head into the turf. That sounds bad, doesn’t it? But this play also didn’t seem to have any malicious intent to it. Smith took off on a short yardage run trying to get a first down, and he slid at the end of it. Geathers, meanwhile, needs to stop Smith from getting the first down, and so he’s getting ready to make a tackle. He’s already coming at Smith when the quarterback starts to slide, so Geathers tries to brace himself from the big hit and, in doing so, inadvertently hits Smith’s head and it slams into the turf. Again, that might be a fine in some games, but it didn’t appear dirty. Those who think it was dirty essentially want football players to be robots, with the ability to just stop mid-motion and not make any contact whatsoever in a live speed football game when the quarterback is trying to get a first down. Basically, they want it to be like a video game where you can just hit the pause button on the defender to avoid the hit. But in that high-speed situation, there’s going to be contact - and Geathers seemed to be trying to avoid a big hit and, in doing so, inadvertently caused a big hit with Smith’s head hitting the turf (which some Chiefs players said is among the hardest playing surfaces in the NFL).

That’s the way it initially appeared to me, and that’s the way Geathers took it too. “I wasn’t trying to be dirty at all,” Geathers said after the game, according to the Indianapolis Star. “Actually, I was trying to miss him. If my hands went down on his helmet or something, I didn’t mean it. It was just me trying to get out of the way, to be honest with you.”

“I was like, ‘Is he going for the first down? Is he not?’” Geathers continued. “It wasn’t like as soon as he saw me he gave himself up. It was more trying to figure out what he was going to do.”

There’s a lot that has been made about the NFL and concussions, which is why stricter regulations and calls have been emphasized - and for good reason. But that also doesn’t mean that every concussion that happens or every hit a quarterback takes is dirty or with malicious intent, and I don’t think either of the Colts’ hits on Sunday qualify as that. Maybe I’ll just be accused of carrying water for the Colts, but in what may be the first positive thing I’ve said about the team since the game ended yesterday, I don’t think the Colts players did anything dirty on those plays but were simply doing their jobs, and the hits were simply a part of playing football.