Listen: Explaining JuJu Smith-Schuster’s Suspension

Now that the dust has settled, wanted to give my thoughts on the JuJu Smith-Schuster suspension. Not so much if I think it’s justified or a good move by the NFL. Frankly, my thoughts on that are useless. This is to explain why the NFL laid down the ban hammer on JuJu and why optics are the driving force behind it.

Not expecting this to make everyone, or anyone, happy but just to explain why I think the league took the approach that they did. When you think about it, Smith-Schuster getting suspended isn’t much of a shock.

About the Author

Alex Kozora

Full-time blogger from mom’s basement. Marrying tape and statistics. Chidi Iwuoma is my favorite Steeler of all-time.

  • Kevin artis

    My problem with his one game suspension is the NFL is saying it is on par with what Gronkowski did, and more egregious than the fight between A.J. Green and the Jaguars corner.
    Both of the latter incidents should at a minimum been two games.

  • Rob S.

    That’s a valiant effort Alex but unfortunately, you can’t explain stupid. The only message the league sent is that they have no idea what they’re doing when it comes to discipline and it’s really just a crapshoot. They’ve implemented these rules for the last 5-6 years or so and somehow they don’t have any sort of discipline structure in place which for a league as big as the NFL is absolutely unfathomable. They know exactly how many games a players going to get if he smokes pot one, two, three times but to decide discipline on illegal hits it’s decided by how they feel that particular day.

    That being said, if they from this point forward every illegal hit is going to be met with a one-game suspension for the first offense, fine. But, you know as well as I do that’s not going to happen. As a matter of fact, I think the only reason Iloka got a one-game suspension is so that it didn’t appear that they were singling out the Steelers.

  • falconsaftey43

    you’re right, and really not that different from what Alex was saying. They did it because they thought the game looked bad. (honestly, I did not get the feeling that this game was a “blood bath” like many in the national media have painted it. outside of the JuJu and Iloka hits, this game was pretty tame IMO. Not even that chippy)

  • falconsaftey43

    side note, is Gruden the worst announcer ever? Constantly got guys names wrong. But my personal favorite was them praising Burfict for “walking away” from Bell when Bell got the penalty. Burfict instigate with Bell and got a reaction that drew a flag (again, nothing really serious honestly, that’s not called if it’s not Steelers-Bengals). He wasn’t attacked and walked away from it like they kept saying. You want to praise him for drawing a flag, fine, but can we please accurately talk about what’s happening, it’s not that hard.

  • LifeUhhFindsAWay

    The NFL is obsessed with political correctness. People saw Shazier’s injury and were horrified, so they decided to drop suspensions for the other hits. It’s all about perception. Players today make more of an effort to make safe hits than any players in the history of the game.

    Watch Juju’s hit again, he turns his head to the side and aims for the chest. It was the most incidental head to head hit you’ll see. He hits him straight on. But head to head contact isn’t 100% avoidable in every case. Unless you change the sport. And it seems like that’s what they are doing.

    Guess what? Football is a VIOLENT sport. So is Boxing. MMA. Hockey. Stop trying to pretend you are going to make this game ‘safe’. The day it becomes ‘safe’ is the day you will probably see most people tune out.

  • Rob S.

    I agree with that sentiment. They were really only the two bad hits and possibly the one by Allen but I never saw it. It was really blown out of proportion because of the Shazier injury. If that didn’t happen, there would have been no suspensions and the game would have been “a hard-hitting tough fought game.”

  • John Romanski

    Going into this game, both of those hits were not offenses that would lead to suspension. That’s the crux of the matter, and why it is grossly unjust to the players and the team. If the NFL is going to take a different approach, they need to do it in a methodical manner, in the off season, where they can educate the players and staff, with seminars, video clips etc. They are essentially making disciplinary changes in the heat of the playoff race. They are not simply laying down the law, they are legislating off the hip. That’s just not how you run any organization, much less one under such a bright public microscope. It’s very detrimental to morale and enthusiasm of the fan base. I have been one of the very few defenders of the general hostility against Roger Goodell and his tenure, that at times it has boiled to a visceral, irrational state. This gives me long pause.

  • taztroy43

    Why does Gronk assaulting a player AFTER the whistle equa the same punishment?That is BLATANTLY wrong and ridiculous! The NFL knew it was going to be a blood bath and now they want to act all high and mighty by handing down suspensions….they are the biggest hipocrites! Knew jerk reaction if I ever seen one…..

  • Zarbor

    I agree especially if we are talking about optics and how things look. Yes, JuJu standing over him looked bad. But whether the NFL meant it or not the optics is that Gronk and JuJu committed similar offenses which is stupid. But lets be honest, the NFL is beyond stupid when it comes to handing out punishments. They have no consistency nor any sense as to what they are doing. These clowns are making it up as it goes based on how they feel. Chucky and the Alien in the booth didn’t help either with their idiotic comments.

    The truth of matter is that JuJu should have been fined, the Bengals safety should have been fined especially if its a first offense. Gronk clearly should have been suspended.

  • David LaVeck

    I agree completely, the timing is bad as Gronk stands alone here and to me that taunt by JuJu is old school football justice given to someone who has injured our star players in the past. IMO a long time coming.

  • David LaVeck

    ESPN even “played up” the hits in the past before the game to get people to tune-in and then decried them during the game, what hypocrites.

  • Kevin artis

    What the NFL is saying every helmet to helmet contact is suspendable.

  • The Tony

    These are the same hypocrites that used to celebrate and do the “Jacked up” segment

  • Doug Sawyer

    I’m sorry this garbage has to stop…since when is a player running across the field looking to make a hit on a ball carrier defenseless …do you have eyes and a head?…can you not see what you are running right into?…he ran right into JuJu …should JuJu have blown out his knees? …at what point is it a players own responsibility to look out for themselves…my guess would be when running directly into a player directly in front of your body …terrible call …I have a great lifelong Bengals fan who knew that hit was clean as well
    the taunt was BS …but the hit ?…if that is not legal this game is going down hill fast

  • Brian Miller

    True, and I think a large part of that was the shock from Shazier’s injury.

  • Brian Miller

    I frankly thought Tony Kornholer was the worst, but he is up there for sure!!

  • Doug Sawyer

    it’s up to players to not also play so out of control and actually see they are running into a human who is about to block them …I’m sorry in the real world when you run after something and pay no attention to anything else you are likely going to get injured

  • Doug Sawyer

    he sounded Drunk

  • falconsaftey43

    It is not legal. When attempting a block, if the offensive player is moving back towards the LOS or parallel to it or if the offensive player is still and the defender is moving parallel to the LOS, the defender is considered defenseless. That is the rule. The “Hines Ward Rule” It’s because the defender can’t see the block coming because he’s looking towards the LOS and ball carrier, not behind him. You’re prohibited from hitting a guy in the head or neck area or with your helmet in this situation. JuJu had a similar “blind side block” a few plays later in the game where he did an excellent job of landing a forceful blow with his shoulder into the defender’s chest and avoiding any head contact, thus was not flagged or fined for it. There is a lot of area between taking a guys head off and going for his knees (which is perfectly legal and the advisable option if you aren’t confident you can land a clean blow higher). Frankly, I do not understand all the fans that whine about making the game soft and then ask “what’s he supposed to do, take out his knees?” Why in so many fan’s eyes is a hit to the knees more gruesome than a blow to the head? Kind of weird to complain about the game being soft and at the same time shudder at the thought of a guy being hit in the knee. The game has rules to protect the head, they’re not hard to understand.

  • LifeUhhFindsAWay

    Taking out a player’s knee’s threatens their career just like a head shot does. I don’t hear anyone saying that JuJu should not have been flagged. I’ll never argue a flag for a head to head collision. He also deserved a flag, and maybe even a fine, for taunting. But a suspension? For a first time offense? There is an agenda there.

  • falconsaftey43

    “but the hit ?…if that is not legal this game is going down hill fast” that’s what I’m responding to.

    And yes, knee injury can end a career. But it’s currently the legal hit. Makes no sense to complain about the game being made soft for trying to limit hits to the head, and at the same time think hitting a player in the knee is some sort of unacceptable action.

  • Doug Sawyer

    he hit him square in the chest …it was entirely and slightly incidental that there was helmet to facemask contact …look at Iloka’s hit …that was helmet to helmet

  • Doug Sawyer

    that hit was planted on his chest

  • Rotten Sircus

    JuJu reminds me of Hines Ward & I hope he continues to play like so !!! Burfict has been a cancer since he’s been in the league and got a dose of his own medicine ( IMO )

  • falconsaftey43

    check out some of the GIFs out there on twitter that show it from the offense perspective instead of from behind JuJu. You can clearly see JuJu’s helmet make hard contact with Burfict’s helmet. Yes, JuJu appears to have tried to hit him shoulder to chest, but he also caught him really good helmet to helmet.

  • Doug Sawyer

    yes but the hit was delivered to his chest Burfect getting flattened backwards is the only reason JuJu hits him in the head …it was in his falling backward where contact is made …it wasn’t the point of contact

  • falconsaftey43

    they are both so clearly helmet to helmet hits. JuJu’s is 100% illegal, a forceful hit to the head of a defenseless player. I understand he looks to be trying to hit him shoulder to chest, but that’s irrelevant. He hit’s him hard in the facemask = penalty.

  • falconsaftey43

    1, that doesn’t matter, it’s still a forceful hit to the head, that’s what’s illegal.

    2, look at the slow-mo GIF in Pete Blackburn’s tweet (linked in depot’s initial suspension article). He clearly makes good contact with the helmet on the initial hit. I don’t know how you can look at that and think it’s not a hit to the head.

  • AndyR34

    That’s all true…and JuJu is paying the price for violating the Hines Ward rule.

  • AndyR34

    I appreciate that someone on here (besides the SD writers) understands the rule and can dispassionately comment about it. Most everyone else are basing their comments on emotion, rather than a thoughtful understanding of the rule.

  • Steeldog22

    Give Burfict credit for the soccer flop. Pretty funny actually, considering the man and the history.

  • falconsaftey43

    oh yeah for sure. smart by him to try it. you know Steelers are going to be hot with anything involving Burfict, might as well try to get them to do something and get a penalty. Announcers were ridiculous though, he obviously instigated it on purpose.

  • PaeperCup

    I see a lot, if not most people here agreeing that it should be a flag, even a fine. The argument is the suspension, which I think no one agrees with.

    I said it earlier, I don’t like the rule, but it is a rule that was broken. I think that this hit is an inch from being legal per the definition, and the intent to hit Burficts head I think is not there. JuJu does lead with his shoulder, he does get him in the chest, he does not leave his feet. But he does also make contact with the helmet.

    I have a problem with calling him defenseless. This is a very very good football player, who I don’t think Juju is gonna stop for long with a regular block. He needs to have his head on a swivel too, he needs to know what’s going on. JuJu barely moved from his spot, and Burfict ran into JuJu….a very very ready JuJu. But it’s not like JuJu sprintede across the field to knock out a player who isn’t involved int he play. Defenders can lay all kinds of hits on defenseless Ball carriers excluding QBs and receivers going for a catch, JuJu lays a pretty good block if you ask me, and he’s being called dirty? pssshhhhhh

  • falconsaftey43

    NFL rule book certainly doesn’t cover every player that’s in a defenseless position (just see the hit AB took in GB on Bryant’s end around). But there is a lengthy list of players that are considered defenseless. Burfict fits it well, and IMO it’s a good rule. Defender is looking at the ball carrier, can’t see a block coming from beyond or down the LOS. JuJu can still lay a good lick by avoiding the head. He did it only a few plays later. That’s my biggest problem when people complain about this stuff. All the defenseless player rules do is make hits to the head or with the crown of the helmet illegal, any other hit is fine. The suspension is ridiculous. I wouldn’t call JuJu’s hit dirty, but the taunting certainly put’s himself in a position to be called that (he did have some taunting issues in college FYI).

  • falconsaftey43

    Thanks, I try to stay objective. I think people get caught up with intent. The rule is pretty simple.
    1) is player defenseless by NFL definition? YES.
    2) Did player receive a forceful blow to the head by the other player, or was he forcefully hit by the crown of the other player’s helmet? YES.

  • Steeldog22

    Yeah. Gruden and McDonough made me want to barf. But the network didn’t have any problems hyping it up or trotting out the Steelers/Bengals injury highlight reel they had ready to go for the game. They’re not promoting the violence though.

  • jlingo

    Lol, “understanding of the rule”. The NFL can’t give a clear definition of what a catch is much less give proper understanding to their rules. The problem is that they are judging a game played at full speed in super slow motion. To say that a player can avoid some indirect helmet to helmet contact is absurd. If you think they can, you have never played the game. JuJu wasn’t laying in wait, calculating a precise hit to the head of Burfict. He was looking for an opponent to block. He didn’t know it was Burfict until he blocked him. I understand the need for player safety, I just don’t see this as an egregious, premeditated act against a “defenseless “ player. The NFL might see it that way, after the fact and after 1000 instant replays at ssm speed… but they’d be wrong. NFL truly does stand for “not for long” if they Pursue this course on incidental helmet to helmet contact. You will see more shut down plays going forward as players look to avoid any contact.

  • falconsaftey43

    their rule couldn’t be simpler. As far as what constitutes a penalty, they do not care one bit about intent. all that matters is the end result. and the end result was a hit to the head of a defenseless player.

    now if you want to talk about how and why players get suspended, you have a point. it’s pretty arbitrary and totally reactionary. but as far as the rules go, and what is an isn’t a penalty. it’s clearly defined.

  • AndyR34

    What falconsaftey43 said

  • AndyR34

    Well, TBH, I was mostly referring to the back and forth with Doug Sawyer, but…I have read many more in other threads. That said, much of what you say is not incorrect, but, according to rule…not relevant. As far as dirty, any of the Bungholes calling it dirty is like the pot calling the kettle black, IMHO. As far Gruden and the Alien, their comments are basically irrelevant with the exception of inflaming others. They are not journalists, nor independent, they are entertainers. I have no respect for either of them, and that pre-dated this event. They ruined much in the pre-game trying to make Bumf*ct into this great person. Notice they never mentioned the >$500,000 in fines he has accrued merely against the Steelers. And that he is widely regarded as the dirtiest player in the NFL…taking over the mantle from Conrad Dobler.

  • AndyR34

    Also…I never said this was “an egregious, premeditated act against a “defenseless “ player”…although by rule, he is defined as a defenseless player.

  • falconsaftey43

    Their broad cast certainly seemed to have a pro bengals, anti steeler slant. talked a lot about how Burfict had turned it around (um…suspended already this year for a hit) and showing all the clips of Steelers hits (which were legal at the time) that caused there to be rule changes.

  • GravityWon

    It looked like a football play so I’m still somewhat surprised.

  • AndyR34

    Oh definitely! I wish there were some way for a rational Steeler fan to call them out on their biased presentation…in person or directly to them, rather than on a message board that they don’t read.

  • Rich Stafford

    I would agree if Jones from Atlanta was suspended. Same block. Taunting is a 9000 fine first offense, not a suspension. Ju ju has no history. Pandora box is open. If NFL follow this formula there won’t be enough players left to finish the season.

  • Rich Stafford

    Tell NFL this. Head shot should be suspended I agree. They set precedent with Gronk. If that equals one game anything less is a fine. No way to argue away that basic logic.

  • Scott N.

    I don’t understand why JuJu’s hit was illegal. Burfect was getting into position to make a play on the ball carrier and JuJu just happen to light him up. It’s not a dirty hit. It wasn’t a hit away from the play. I know my opinion does not matter, but again, I just don’t see why the hit was illegal.

  • GravityWon

    When discussing the hit, Craig Wolfley reminded people that one of the first things they teach you in football is to keep your head on a swivel. Thus Burfict shouldn’t have been defenseless. He only was because he is wreckless.