As we all witnessed in Monday night's game, the rivalry between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals hasn't lost a bit of intensity. These two teams simply hate each other and that was shown in full force once again.
While there was a great amount of physicality shown in this game, the one play that stuck out was rookie wide receiver, JuJu Smith-Schuster's block on Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict. During the fourth quarter, running back Le'Veon Bell was carrying the ball and Smith-Schuster laid a crackback block on Burfict, causing him to leave the game with a head injury. JuJu then proceeded to stand over Burfict, taunting him. He was flagged for both the hit and unsportsmanlike conduct.
Early Tuesday afternoon it was announced that Smith-Schuster would be suspended for this Sunday's game against the Ravens.
Here are my thoughts on this announcement.
Let me start off by saying that I'm not condoning injuring Burfict or cheering about his injury. As a former player myself, I hate to see any player go down with an injury. With that being said, a hit like this was sort of a long time coming for him. Burfict has been notorious for these deliberate attempts to injure Steelers players and even went as far as saying that Antonio Brown faked his injury last season.
Monday night, as soon as JuJu laid a big hit that caused an injury, the commentators jumped on his case. Jon Gruden was talking all night about how he'd "pay season tickets to watch Burfict play". When Schuster laid the hit, Gruden said that he should be ashamed and bashed him for it.
That's unfair to do to a player who just turned 21 years old and hasn't had any other instances of misconduct. Furthermore, Julio Jones of the Atlanta Falcons made a similar play on Sunday, giving Vikings S Andrew Sendejo, without so much as a flag, let alone a suspension or fine being discussed:
— Steel City Underground (@steelcityundrgr) December 6, 2017
Both of those hits were way worse! Gronkowski speared a defenseless Tre'Davious White after the play while White was on the ground. That was obviously intentional on trying to hurt White and it put him out of the game. Iloka's hit was clear helmet-to-helmet hit in the end zone on Antonio Brown. JuJu's hit on Burfict was under the chin but not helmet-to-helmet.
If the NFL is going to suspend Smith-Schuster for one game, then the length of the suspension for those other two hits should be reconsidered, especially Gronkowski's. In fact, Gronkowski's hit being a one-game makes it a tougher sell for JuJu and Iloka's suspensions: maybe that's why Iloka had his reduced to a fine... while JuJu's appeal was upheld?
Appeals officer Derrick Brooks, jointly appointed by NFL & NFLPA, reduced discipline of George Iloka from 1-game suspension to $36,464.50 fine.
— Michael Signora (@NFLfootballinfo) December 6, 2017
At the end of the day, was the hit vicious? Absolutely. But it didn't warrant a suspension. Yes, there are rules against crackback blocks and helmet-to-helmet hits but this was a football play. Bell was running the ball with Burfict coming to make the tackle and JuJu laid a block for his teammate. Unfortunately for Burfict, he didn't have his head on a swivel, as every linebacker has ever been taught.
If the NFL is going to punish JuJu, fine him for taunting. As it stands, it appears they are suspending him for taunting, which is ridiculous when you consider A.J. Green got away with this:
A.J. Green and Jalen Ramsey (!!): 1/2 a game pic.twitter.com/K1tp4LgrAe
— Cameron DaSilva (@camdasilva) December 5, 2017
Allowing Green and Ramsey's behavior to go without a suspension, while suspending Smith-Schuster for a football play, takes away from the actual game of football. Back in the day, Hines Ward was known for these hits. I saw him do the exact same thing to Keith Rivers in person. If the NFL is going to hide behind JuJu taunting Burfict as part of their reasoning, it's clearly flawed when taking into account many other situations which have gone unnoticed this season and shows how they are taking the aggressive nature of the game of football away.