Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

05 Mar 2012

Gregg Williams: The Penalty Record

Is the Gregg Williams bounty scandal reflected in the stats? The answer is "maybe a little, but probably not."

We went back and looked at the number of violent penalties earned by each of Gregg Williams' defenses since he was the head coach in Buffalo. When we say "violent penalties," we're talking about Unnecessary Roughness, Unsportsmanlike Conduct, and Roughing the Passer. We only looked at penalties on defense, taking out penalties on offense or special teams, because we specifically wanted to look to see if there was a Williams effect. Our numbers are regular season only.

Over the last two seasons, the Saints certainly have been flagged for roughness more than most other teams. In 2010-2011, they earned 15 Unnecessary Roughness penalties on defense, plus eight Roughing the Passer penalties. (There were no Unsportsmanlike Conduct penalties, but those are pretty rare overall.) The average team in this two-year span earned 7.7 Unnecessary Roughness penalties and 6.0 Roughing the Passer penalties. The Saints were in the top five for Unnecessary Roughness both seasons.

However, they weren't the only team with a lot of roughness penalties. If we include special teams, the Denver Broncos actually led (or tied for the lead) in Unnecessary Roughness in both seasons, with 13 in 2010 and 11 in 2011, even though they had completely different coaching staffs each year. If we look at defense only, the Broncos still had 15 Unnecessary Roughness penalties in the two-year span, same as New Orleans.

When we first ran the numbers for 2010 and 2011, we thought, wow, that's actually some pretty strong statistical evidence that the bounty system did lead to more dangerous on-field hits. When we ran the numbers for the other years, however, that evidence became a lot weaker. From 2001-2009, no Gregg Williams defense had more than four Unnecessary Roughness penalties in a single season, or more than five Roughing the Passer penalties. Here's a table going back to his days as head coach in Buffalo:

Team Unnecessary
Roughness
Roughing
the Passer
2011 NO 9 6
2010 NO 6 2
2009 NO 3 2
2008 JAC 3 2
2007 WAS 3 1
2006 WAS 2 5
2005 WAS 4 2
2004 WAS 4 5
2003 BUF 2 3
2002 BUF 2 4
2001 BUF 1 4

Of course, this isn't evidence that Williams didn't have a bounty system in place in New Orleans. But if Williams has installed a bounty system on his defenses for years, as reports seem to indicate, it doesn't seem to have led to quite as many rough and illegal hits on the field as you might expect. Or, at least, not as many rough hits that were flagged as illegal.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 05 Mar 2012

62 comments, Last at 12 Mar 2012, 9:26am by Michael LaRocca

Comments

1
by Birdman84 (not verified) :: Mon, 03/05/2012 - 1:11pm

What are the playoff numbers? You would expect to see a greater bounty effect in those games, if one exists.

2
by Joey (not verified) :: Mon, 03/05/2012 - 1:16pm

How are the recent numbers affected by the rule changes? Can you adjust the numbers to reflect the # of penalties vs overall number of calls in the league for these categories (I'm guessing roughing calls have increased recently)?

3
by are-tee :: Mon, 03/05/2012 - 1:17pm

Well, if you're trying to seriously injure someone, you probably have a better chance with an illegal chop block. I'd be curious to see those stats for Williams's teams.

15
by RickD :: Mon, 03/05/2012 - 2:06pm

Williams is primarily a defensive coach. And I don't recall a sense that his Buffalo teams were big chop blockers (a la Denver).

38
by Danish Denver-Fan :: Mon, 03/05/2012 - 5:48pm

For the millionth time: It's called a cut-block and is completely legal.

I'd wager that 90 percent of all calledchop-blocks are accidental. Often it's a RB trying to pick up blitz or simply a offensive lineman falling down during a double team.

42
by RickD :: Mon, 03/05/2012 - 11:40pm

There are chop blocks and there are cut blocks. It depends on whether the person being blocked is already in contact with another blocker or not. In the former case it's a chop block. In the latter case, it may simply be a cut block. To be quite honest, I find it hard to tell the difference.

Chop blocks are illegal. Well, mostly. I've certainly seen it flagged more than once.

They are also more illegal than they used to be, in the sense that there are certain types of blocks that used to be legal that are not legal any more.

See
http://nflhealthandsafety.com/commitment/evolution/

for how complicated this situation is.

Oh, and there's at least one documented incident of a Bronco blocker injuring a defender with an intentional cut block.

43
by Intropy :: Tue, 03/06/2012 - 1:28am

Intentional cut blocks are legal and common practice. They tend to happen especially frequently when the blocker is a relatively poor match for the player being blocked, for example a running back cutting a blitzing linebacker. There's a third type of "block" that I've also heard mixed up with both chop and cut blocks, and that's clipping, which is going low to block from behind. I think clipping is always illegal when intentional (as opposed to getting blocked into it or when diving for a loose ball, for example).

25
by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 03/05/2012 - 3:32pm

Shawne Merriman has accused Jeff Fisher of ordering Kevin Mawae to take him out and his knee never really recovered. However, Merriman does say quite a lot of things.

4
by morganja :: Mon, 03/05/2012 - 1:19pm

Interesting data. Here is another, more disturbing interpretation. 1) NFL refs do a disturbingly poor job of policing intentional attempts to injure. 2) Because of that fact, Williams could implement a bounty system with a positive result for his team, injuring opposing players, without negative results, penalties. 3) It was only after the NFL warned the Saints and it instructed its refs to look for it, at the start of 2011, that refs started penalizing it, on the rare times that they saw it. 4) Williams, Loomis and company still failed to get the hint.

From this perspective, it seems that NFL refs do not have the capacity to police this sort of behavior on the field, necessitating a different system, such as video review and punishment during the week after.

6
by gwadagibeht (not verified) :: Mon, 03/05/2012 - 1:25pm

I'm on board. How many dirty hits in that minnesota game could have been flagged

9
by ebongreen :: Mon, 03/05/2012 - 1:31pm

Given the - ahem - wide variety of interpretations that NFL referees apply to something relatively simple - like offensive line holding calls - I find your first hypothesis highly plausible.

27
by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 03/05/2012 - 3:40pm

Flag fatigue is a reasonable hypothesis but very difficult to verify. I'd also propose that it's a bigger problem in playoff games for quite a few types of judgement calls but again it's nigh on impossible to establish whether or not this is a real issue or simply misperception.

5
by Southern Philly :: Mon, 03/05/2012 - 1:20pm

"Or, at least, not as many rough hits that were flagged as illegal."

That's the key, since each week (or just about every week) we see hits that were not flagged in the game earn fines.

56
by JonFrum :: Sat, 03/10/2012 - 10:17pm

Thank you.

7
by gwadagibeht (not verified) :: Mon, 03/05/2012 - 1:27pm

It could also potentially be a matter of working the refs, like Glavine expanding the strike zone or a Pat Riley team just relentlessly hacking away until the refs only call the most over-the-top tackles. but it is hard to argue against the data

8
by Will Allen :: Mon, 03/05/2012 - 1:28pm

I'd be mildly surprised if a bounty system markedly increases illegal hits, and you'll never get a large enough sample size to have much confidence in such an assertion.

The reason why this is a big deal to the NFL, however, doesn't have nuch to do with that assertion. If the concussion issue get argued in front of a jury during a class action lawsuit, juries aren't logic machines, carefully sifting through statistics. They are human beings hearing testimony from suffering human beings, and their suffering family members, and then the jury members will also hear testimony of how NFL management avoided or even covered up evidence of the long term effects of concussions, and now they will hear how some parts of NFL management were administering a program that provided direct compensation for concussing a player. That affects verdicts and the size of damages awarded.

Next, we get to the issue of undermining the CBA and salary cap, perhaps with the help of an outside entity, an agent. Then we get to the fact that behavior was continued after the people managing the organization were told to put a stop to it, and they promised they would.

Whether this stuff actually increased the likelihood of hits outside of the rules actually doesn't matter much, from the perspective of effective management of the debacle.

32
by mental :: Mon, 03/05/2012 - 4:09pm

In the case of paid bounties -- particularly those over $10k if any -- would there not also be IRS evasion issues as well? Would an eager prosecutor be able to file RICO charges?

33
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 03/05/2012 - 4:54pm

The only racketeering involved in a player dodging taxes is on the part of the IRS.

Regardless, income tax evasion is not a concern of the NFL.

36
by Will Allen :: Mon, 03/05/2012 - 5:20pm

I am not saying such a liability exists, but I think you are very wrong if you are saying the league would not be concerned about players evading taxes on income earned for specific performance on the field, income which was coordinated by coaches.

35
by Will Allen :: Mon, 03/05/2012 - 5:09pm

It gets pretty technical, depending on how such income is categorized, which also can give the IRS a lot of leeway, subject to tax court rulings, but certainly there is that potential whenever you start talking about pools of money of $50,000, which is what has been reported to have existed in 2009. When you start talking about an outside entity like an agent supplying the money, as has also been reported, then you can start asking questions whether or not the agent declared it as a business expense, and whether he should have generated a 1099.

It's a mess, and once you consider the possibility of an outside entity like an agent, or a business owner who becomes an offcial team sponsor, supplying nontransparent compensation to players, coordinated by coaches, the potential problems are gigantic. Suppose such an entity has a gambling problem, and gets in a position to be leaned on by illegal bookmakers? Having such a person coordinating nontransparent player compensation schemes with coaches, for injuring opposing players, is a nightmare scenario. Payton and Williams both struck me as reasonably smart people, and I don't know why, but I still get surprised by smart people doing extremely stupid things.

(edit) I see Florio just reported that the NFL Network just made a programming change, yanking the rebroadcast of the Vikings-Saints Conference Championship Game. Maybe this is just the league making a mistake by being too defensive, as Florio suggests, but it is really strange to me that they would go that far. Bizarre.

40
by Sisyphus :: Mon, 03/05/2012 - 9:19pm

This raises some rather interesting points in terms of the NFL wanting to hand out significant penalties for this type of behavior. They would want to clearly establish that this was not sanctioned and that when exposed they responded forcefully.

There is another interesting point here that some particularly aggressive prosecutor might think to pursue. Does the acceptance of a payment for causing injury to another player constitute felony battery. The reason why hockey and football players can engage in the type of violence they do is because there is a presumption that there is no intent to injure, that you are playing in the rules of the game. But when you accept money to injure a person the intent can be assumed. So, if in a road game they knocked out the opponent's quarterback the individual (and the coaches as accessories before the fact) might be liable both criminally and civilly. RICO can be imposed civilly which thwarts any attempt to invoke fifth amendment rights when responding to questions and discovery. So don't be surprised if some prosecutor in an away game site where one of their players was knocked out by a New Orleans defensive player to calls a grand jury.

48
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 03/06/2012 - 9:48am

There is another interesting point here that some particularly aggressive prosecutor might think to pursue. Does the acceptance of a payment for causing injury to another player constitute felony battery. The reason why hockey and football players can engage in the type of violence they do is because there is a presumption that there is no intent to injure, that you are playing in the rules of the game.

Difficulty: the legality of boxing.

The entire goal of boxing is to concuss your opponent. You accept payment for causing (pre-meditated) injury to another player. This is within the rules of the game, and entirely legal.

It would be a large hurdle for a prosecutor to prove intent and cause, especially for unflagged incidents, because those were acknowledged to have been within the rules of the game.

49
by morganja :: Tue, 03/06/2012 - 12:15pm

Unfortunately, it is no hurdle at all.

Fact: The establishment of a bounty to injure a player shows intent.
Fact: The payment of said bounty for injury shows cause.
Fact: The failure of a ref to throw a flag does not in any way establish that everything that happened on that play was legal. I cite the practice of fining players for unflagged hits.

So the large hurdle would actually be a trivial exercise.

It is also an exercise that should be done. I'm still shocked to find so many people who seem to think that
1) It is ok to attempt to injure another player during a game;
2) anything that you can get away with is 'legal'.

Sports, especially football, are at a crossroads at all levels. It is long past time that we made a concerted effort to at least eliminate the intentional injuries in sports.

10
by morganja :: Mon, 03/05/2012 - 1:34pm

The pertinent data would be how many players left games due to injuries, though that only measures the effectiveness of the bounty and the effectiveness of the attempts to injure.

11
by JIPanick :: Mon, 03/05/2012 - 1:39pm

Right. We should be looking at opposing injuries, not called penalties.

57
by JonFrum :: Sat, 03/10/2012 - 10:19pm

No - intent to injure does not guarantee injury.

12
by Will Allen :: Mon, 03/05/2012 - 1:45pm

You're right, but I think if the Saints sent players off the field at a statistically signifigant higher rate, we would have heard more stuff about the fearsome Saints defense.

It really doesn't matter, however, in terms of what Goodell has to do in response. The only smart thing is to do is to bring the hammer down, very, very, hard. Even if Benson yelps, the other owners would understand and support the necessity of doing so, I think.

20
by RickD :: Mon, 03/05/2012 - 2:16pm

Another point to consider is that there's no reason to think that a bounty system was applied with equal vigor against all opponents.

I suspect the bounties posted for games against the Falcons or Packers would ordinarily be higher than those posted for games against the Rams or Redskins.

The bounties we know about were for Kurt Warner and Brett Favre. Most teams don't have a Kurt Warner or Brett Favre.

30
by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 03/05/2012 - 4:02pm

I'm not sure that would necessarily result in a useful analysis. For example, last year the 49ers defense walloped the opposition to the extent that they knocked about five running backs and four quarterbacks out of the game. Were they operating a bounty system? I have no idea, I don't think so but I could be biased even though I try not to be. There were some illegal hits called on the niners, some of which were fairly called some were bad officiating (I can think of at least one clean Dashon Goldson hit that was flagged). My view is that they were a very hard hitting, athletic and intense unit but not a dirty one; the biggest hitter an defensive leader, Patrick Willis hits with close to textbook technique most of the time and doesn't seem to be a dirty player to me. I suspect that you'd find that the best defenses cause the most injuries.

13
by morganja :: Mon, 03/05/2012 - 1:51pm

I think we will see by the punishment what really happened between Loomis and Benson. If it is a relatively light punishment for Loomis, than we will know that Goodell knows that Loomis is taking one for Benson. If it is a relatively harsh punishment on Loomis, than we know that Loomis actually did defy his owner and the commissioner.

19
by Will Allen :: Mon, 03/05/2012 - 2:15pm

Gosh, it seems to me that if the NFL's own security department asserts that Loomis knew that the program was being administered by coaches, he was told to get them to stop, he told the league that he had done so, when the reality was that he didn't do anything, then Goodell can't go light on Loomis, with civil trials looming where such facts will be red meat for litigators. Now, maybe Loomis will claim that he took every measure short of bugging the meeting rooms to ensure that Williams ceased the behavior, and that Williams and Payton lied to him, but without actually reading the 50,000 page report, that doesn't seem to be what has been claimed.

22
by morganja :: Mon, 03/05/2012 - 2:40pm

I agree with you. Benson does not seem like the kind of guy who possesses tight organizational control. But IF there is a strangely light punishment for Loomis, I would venture that behind the scenes Benson told Loomis to continue it and then when everything hit the fan, take the fall, and that Benson will 'take care of him'.
I have no doubt that NFL security can shift the blame from a guilty owner if they are so directed. They work for the commissioner, who works for the owners. Afterall, which is worse from a legal standpoint, a 'rogue' GM, or an owner who implements a bounty system?

Having said that, assuming Benson is as bumbling a clown as he seems, what does that say about the business acumen of the 1% and all this rhetoric from the lockout?

23
by Will Allen :: Mon, 03/05/2012 - 3:02pm

Well, among the 32 NFL owners, there are more than a few free riders who have benefitted significantly by the much smaller group of owners and managers who built the television dynamo into what it is today.

24
by morganja :: Mon, 03/05/2012 - 3:23pm

That reinforces what some said the lockout really was about, not a battle between owners and players as much as it was a revolt of the owners who are generating all the ideas, revenues and entrepreneurial ventures against the majority of the owners who are essentially useless leaches who demand their 'fair' share of magically appearing revenue.

26
by Will Allen :: Mon, 03/05/2012 - 3:39pm

Anybody who doesn't grasp that Robert Kraft is about five times more intelligent than Mike Brown isn't paying attention. Or carries Mike Brown's genes.

34
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 03/05/2012 - 4:55pm

Anybody who doesn't grasp that Shawne Merriman is about five times more intelligent than Mike Brown isn't paying attention.

28
by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 03/05/2012 - 3:52pm

I'm not sure how much credit the owners deserve for the expansion in television revenues. It is certainly true that at some stage a group of owners, or their representatives, have to sit down and negotiate with the TV executives but the amount the TV companies will pay is derived from the level of public demand for the game, which is based on the product on the field. I feel that it's the players and coaches that are largely responsible with the owners making minor adjustments to promote parity. Coaches in particular seem to be forgotten in the discussion.

29
by Will Allen :: Mon, 03/05/2012 - 4:01pm

I think it is hard to overstate what it meant to the league's prospects that the Maras and George Halas, as the dominant franchises in the two largest markets, never tried to bigfoot the rest of the league, from the league's inception, in the manner of the New York Yankees. Really, really, farsighted.

31
by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 03/05/2012 - 4:05pm

I agree that some of the early owners deserve to be regarded as custodians of the game but I thought we were talking about the explosion in TV revenues in the past 15 to 20 years.

58
by JonFrum :: Sat, 03/10/2012 - 10:25pm

So you think Kraft Macaroni and Cheese is so successful because it's a superb culinary delight? Much of the growth of the NFL during the last 50 years came right out of NFL Films, which turned normal highlights into grand epics. I might have seen the LA Rams play a couple of times during the 1960s, but I had Sports Illustrated color photos of the Fearsome Foursome on my bedroom walls. I was buying the story, not the product on the field, which a kid in Boston rarely got to see - beyond Babe Parelli and Gino Capeletti.

61
by Karl Cuba :: Sun, 03/11/2012 - 5:39pm

I have no idea what to make of your Macaroni observation, I don't see how it's relevant. I'll just say that if it tasted like shit I doubt anyone would buy it.

The NBA, NHL and MLB all have owners and marketing divisions but the NFL gets by far the highest TV ratings. Personally I couldn't care less about over-hyped and manufactured storylines in sports.

I'll point out again what I tried to make clear in the post above, I was talking about the massive growth in TV revenues in the last twenty years.

14
by Ferguson1015 :: Mon, 03/05/2012 - 2:02pm

I'd be interested to see a look on a game-to-game basis including data on who the penalties were targeting (for example, if they had 4 roughing penalties when they were playing the vikings and 3 of them were against Favre and one against Peterson it would be: Vikings - 3 Favre, 1 Peterson). I think that would be more indicative of whether certain players were being targeted, or if they were just being aggressive in general.

Also would be interesting to see (as a poster mentioned above) if the targeted player had to leave the game during injury.

16
by tally :: Mon, 03/05/2012 - 2:08pm

One, I'd like to see the actual statistical test comparing Gregg Williams defenses against the rest of the league in those categories rather than brushing it off as insignificant.

Two, my gut feeling is that his aren't the only defenses instituting a bounty system, and those other defenses that weren't caught probably jack up the league averages. The Denver example might reinforce this--it could be the team and the players on the team rather than the coaching staff who have a bounty system in place.

18
by RickD :: Mon, 03/05/2012 - 2:12pm

Yeah, I was about to say something regarding your second point. We don't really have a control group here. If other teams have bounty systems that haven't been exposed yet, then comparing the stats for Williams's teams to those of other teams will serve little purpose.
In any case, the events are so sparse, I'd be extremely reluctant to think that statistical analysis is the way to go.

45
by TimK :: Tue, 03/06/2012 - 4:24am

Given the Denver figures include Special Teams, that makes me wonder if the altitude effect on kicking distances makes for more violent collisions as well, hence making for more penalty calls?

Again, small sample size would make that hard to tell. There is also the fairly frequent outbreaks of personal fouls etc in games involving any two of Broncos/Chiefs/Raiders which are fairly entrenched rivalries - Redskins have Dallas, but do Saints or Bills have that kind of historical rivalry that seems often good for a dumb penalty or two? With the numbers being low this could be a significant factor.

17
by RickD :: Mon, 03/05/2012 - 2:09pm

The problem is that Gregg Williams wasn't trying to get his defense to commit penalties. To the contrary, he was trying to get them to make legal hits that would knock players out of the game.
You could argue that a large number of hard legal hits should correlate with a large number of hard illegal hits, but all you've shown is a lack of evidence for your theory.

51
by Sophandros :: Wed, 03/07/2012 - 4:37pm

There's that, and the bounty also rewarded players for big plays like interceptions, forced fumbles, etc.

I think that the biggest crime of this was that Williams paid into it. Period.

-------------
Sports talk radio and sports message boards are the killing fields of intellectual discourse.

59
by JonFrum :: Sat, 03/10/2012 - 10:31pm

A play that knocks a starting QB out of a game is well worth a penalty. You're far to generous to Williams with your assumption. When you're talking about 'kill shots,' please don't tell me he was being fussy about fifteen yard penalties.

21
by morganja :: Mon, 03/05/2012 - 2:33pm

I agree that he was trying to avoid penalties, but not that he was trying to get them to do legal hits to knock players out of a game.
For example, and I mentioned it in the earlier thread, I saw a Panthers-Saints game in which Scott Fujita was caught on camera looking around for the refs, than, on the entire other side of the field from the running play, after the ball-carrier was tackled, jogged up behind Steve Smith, waited for him to plant his knee, and then dived at the locked knee clearly intending to seriously injure him, perhaps for the season, perhaps ending his career.

That I think was the meat and potatoes of this bounty program. Looking only at Warner and Favre misses the bulk of what was going on. It's virtually impossible to injure them without someone noticing, it's something even a playoff ref might eventually catch.

As far as we know, the bounties were paid for any player injured or any player carted off. I think the refs were missing it because the injuries were happening on cheap hits away from the action and away from their supposed scrutiny, even when they are occasionally interested in policing it for non-QB's.

46
by BJR :: Tue, 03/06/2012 - 6:33am

I think it's fairly safe to assume the bounties were specifically targeted at the opposing team's best players. Or rewards were greater for injuring those players, as opposed to others. At least logically that is the way such a system should work, and if they were going to go to the trouble of organising and administering the fund I'd assume it would have some structure to it.

37
by dbirtchnell (not verified) :: Mon, 03/05/2012 - 5:29pm

These stats are all well and good, but in 2011 the Saints defense got a bunch of unnecessary roughness or roughing the passer calls against them which should never have been called.

Roman Harper got one on Jay Cutler which the league apologised for and said wasn't a penalty. Will Smith (I think) got flagged for roughing the passer for a hit on Cam Newton when the hit actually caused the ball to flutter short of the receiver. How could that have happened if Smith hit Newton late?!

Yes we deserved the majority of those penalties, but after the Harper late hit on Steve Smith early in the season the refs were looking for late hits on us for the rest of the year and threw flags when one wasn't warranted.

44
by akn :: Tue, 03/06/2012 - 3:37am

You're citing a few outliers on one side without acknowledging the other. For every bad Jay Cutler RTP call, you can make the case for an equally bad non-call (in Roman Harper's case, that would be the spearing non-call in the same game that took out Earl Bennett for 8 weeks with cracked ribs).

The analysis above uses penalties as a statistic, which represents an estimate of the true "vicious" penalties the Saints committed. Feel free to advance another estimate if you feel you have a better one.

47
by dbirtchnell (not verified) :: Tue, 03/06/2012 - 9:36am

I guess the point I was making was that I'd take those numbers with a pinch of salt. Once a team gets some personal foul or roughing calls early in the season, the refs scrutinise that team far more and call more penalties. It's human nature.

I've seen every Saints game over the past 3 years (through Gamepass) and a load more prior to that and the defense wasn't dirtier or gave more big hits than in any other year. If anything, they hit harder in 2009, but for whatever reason got the benefit of the doubt more often than not that year.

Some big hits get penalised and some don't - in 2009 we 'got away' with some and last year we were over-penalised for the same kind of hits. These kind of things generally level out over the course of time.

39
by Mikeymikey (not verified) :: Mon, 03/05/2012 - 9:18pm

AGL?

41
by Michael LaRocca (not verified) :: Mon, 03/05/2012 - 9:19pm

For bounties like that, I'd hit guys in the parking lot.

50
by Bradley (not verified) :: Wed, 03/07/2012 - 4:06pm

Rick D's point hits on something very important:

He said:

"The problem is that Gregg Williams wasn't trying to get his defense to commit penalties. To the contrary, he was trying to get them to make legal hits that would knock players out of the game."

Now, this is true. It's something born out by the fact that the illegal hit numbers are inconclusive, and, based on research done by the Wall Street Journal, so are the injured players numbers (the WSJ found that between 2009 and 2011 the Saints defense did NOT knock more players out of the game than league average).

Given Rick's statement's validity and the evidence supporting it, PLUS the statements of many NFL defenders that they had "big play pools" that included money for clean "big hits", literally what we're dealing with in regards to the Saints is an issue of lingo.

Is there actually any substantive difference between a "Big but Clean Hit Fund" and an "Injury Fund" other than the words being used to describe them?

This is not to defend the practice, but more and more I feel the entire "scandal" is about using the Saints' bounty program as a pivot point on the player safety issue--the big turning point where Goodell can institute his imagined "safe NFL." I understand why the game must be "made safe" given all that we've learned about degenerative brain conditions, but I'm not sure such a thing is actually possible, even if one franchise is sort of sacrificed for the cause.

52
by morganja :: Wed, 03/07/2012 - 9:14pm

Yes. The intent to injure.

60
by JonFrum :: Sat, 03/10/2012 - 10:37pm

You assume what is at issue.

KILL SHOTS.

What is it you don't understand about this. "I want you to knock the opposing quarterback out of the game by hitting him so hard that his body can't respond... but don't get a 15 yard penalty while doing it?" Is that what you want us to believe was going on? You're delusional. It's like hiring someone to threaten a woman sexually by putting it right at the opening, but then telling him to make sure he doesn't actually, you know, put it in. "Really, Your Honor, I had no idea he'd rape her - I only wanted him to scare her!"

53
by Bradley (not verified) :: Thu, 03/08/2012 - 10:57am

So when Tedy Bruschi says his pay-for-performance money was for "big hits that caused pain" that's different from "big hits that hurt people?"

Since the Saints weren't flagged for an excessive number of illegal hits and since they didn't cause a higher than normal number of injuries the whole thing boils down to "we don't like the words they used in their specific pay-for-performance system."

That's an incredibly thin line. I'm not even sure it exists.

This is a sport where analogies of death and war are hardwired into the everyday lingo. We're supposed to freak out completely because one team uses the term "cart-off" instead of "pain-causing hit that intimidates people?"

54
by tuluse :: Thu, 03/08/2012 - 12:46pm

I'm not sure it is that fine of a line. Just playing backyard football with my friends I've laid some hits that I expected would hurt them, but I didn't want to break bones or do any kind of permanent damage.

Edit: The real problem here is not that the Saints were trying to injure opposing players, but that the coaches were paying them to, and even worse outside sources were providing money.

55
by Bradley (not verified) :: Thu, 03/08/2012 - 3:03pm

Tuluse, I think you're onto the real issue.

Boiling down your edit to its bare bones, the real issue is the potential CBA violations. That's what they'll actually nail the Saints for. Sort of like getting Al Capone for tax evasion. Not that I believe the evidence even indicates the Saints were an Al Capone--but the fact that Gregg Williams was actively organizing this particular pay-for-performance system makes it a more overt violation.

62
by Michael LaRocca (not verified) :: Mon, 03/12/2012 - 9:26am

The appropriate punishment would be to make him head coach of the Buffalo Bills again.