Michael Bennett used to use his hands to outline the area he felt the NFL would permit a defender to hit a quarterback. He would show it to be about as small as Major League Baseball’s strike zone: from below the chest to midthigh.
After three league fines in as many months, where does the Seahawks’ candid defensive end now think it is permissible to hit a quarterback?
“Nowhere,” Bennett says.
The NFC’s second-leading sack man this season with 6 1/2 entering Sunday night’s NFC West showdown between the Seahawks (4-4) and first-place Arizona (6 -2) at CenturyLink Field is shaking his bushy beard and head this week. That’s over the NFL fining him $20,000 for lunging into the lower legs of Dallas’ Matt Cassel late in Seattle’s last game, its win on Nov. 1.
“The best place to hit a quarterback is nowhere,” said Bennett, who’s in the second year of a $28.5 million, four-year contract extension. “Because if you do that you won’t get paid a lot of money, but you won’t get fined.”
Bennett got docked in August for hitting Alex Smith as Kansas City’s quarterback threw a pass during an exhibition game. He got fined in October for slamming Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton during Seahawks teammate Earl Thomas’ return of an interception.
Coincidentally, Bennett has the most sacks through the first half of any season since he entered the league in 2009.
So to his logic and experience, the more he does his job over the latter half of this season the more likely he is to get fined again.
Does that make sense?
Bennett doesn’t think so, either.
“I don’t really understand the NFL when it comes to fines and the hits that people take,” he said.
He pointed to St. Louis’ Lamarcus Joyner hitting Minnesota’s Teddy Bridgewater in the helmet with his elbow on Sunday as the quarterback was finishing a scramble with a legs-first slide. Bridgewater was briefly unconscious and left the game. The Rams maintained the hit was incidental to Bridgewater getting low on the slide. The league is likely to fine Joyner at least $8,681 for hitting a defenseless player.
Bennett contrasted that with the open-field hit by Dallas safety Jeff Heath on Ricardo Lockette that left Seattle’s special-teams ace unconscious on the turf. Lockette was stretchered out of AT&T Stadium and had neck surgery in Dallas last week. That ended his season and leaves his career in doubt.
The NFL did not fine Heath for what officials on the field flagged as a blindside block.
“The hits you think are finable aren’t finable,” Bennett said. “Take Teddy Bridgewater, for example. That dude slides, he gets hit, that’s considered a dirty hit. That guy gets fined. The guy (Heath) does that to Lockette, and that’s a clean hit. It never makes any sense.
“It’s all about the position that the player plays to decide what’s finable and what’s not finable.”
The recent history of league fines and even the rules themselves offer support for Bennett’s point.
The fine Bennett got for hitting Cassel near the knees is from what’s known as “the Tom Brady rule.” New England’s quarterback got hit in the left knee by Kansas City’s lunging blitzer Bernard Pollard in the 2008 opener. Brady missed the rest of that season.
In the ensuing offseason, the spring of 2009, the league’s competition committee added this provision to Rule 12, Section 2, Article 12 (roughing the passer): “A rushing defender is prohibited from forcibly hitting in the knee area or below a passer who has one or both feet on the ground, even if the initial contact is above the knee.”
There is, as Bennett will gladly remind, no provision for anyone going at a defensive lineman’s knees unless he is being blocked by another player.
Asked if he was surprised Heath didn’t get fined for crunching Lockette, Bennett said, “Hell, yeah, I was surprised.
“They fine me for falling into a guy’s leg. (Heath) was intentionally looking for a guy and calling him out and he hit that guy. I wasn’t looking at (Cassel’s) knee and just running into his knee.”
As you probably already know or have discerned, Bennett can talk. Loves to, in fact. It’s why the NFL Network had him on its Sunday pregame show last weekend. It asks him to come on every free weekend the Seahawks have in and out of each season.
That mouth may continue to be Bennett’s best weapon to combat fines. That is, should he continue to do his job — pressuring and hitting quarterbacks — resuming Sunday night against the Cardinals and Carson Palmer.
Bennett is batting .500 so far this year in talking his way out of fines for hits on quarterbacks. He described the process of appeal hearings as being by telephone with a listening panel of former star players and league executives.
“I’ve won three so far,” he said of appeals in his career. “Yeah, I’ve got the gift of gab.”
The fine against Smith in that Chiefs preseason game?
“Yep, got that back,” Bennett said.
He joked — we think — that he recently got a fine rescinded on behalf of teammate and linebacker K.J. Wright. The league had docked Wright $10,000 after he was ejected for pulling the face mask of Packers tight end Richard Rodgers at the end of a play at Green Bay in September.
Bennett didn’t mention anything about his $8,681 fine for scrapping with Green Bay offensive lineman T.J. Lang in the aftermath of Wright’s foul.
How about his repeated hitting of Dalton, even while the QB was on the ground, during Thomas’ interception return at Cincinnati on Oct. 11?
“I don’t know that I’ll get that one back,” Bennett said with a sheepish smile. “They haven’t decided it yet.”
The Seahawks have until Saturday at 5:30 p.m., 24 hours before Sunday’s kickoff, to activate WR Paul Richardson from the physically-unable-to-perform list if they want him to play against the Cardinals, as coach Pete Carroll has suggested the 2014 second-round pick who had reconstructive knee surgery in January will. The obvious corresponding move would be placing Ricardo Lockette on injured reserve. … The Seahawks made minor moves Tuesday. They signed rookie TE Harold Spears and DE Julius Warmsley to the practice squad, and they released TE RaShaun Allen and DT Robert Thomas from the practice squad.
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle
SEAHAWKS’ NEXT OPPONENT
ARIZONA CARDINALS (6-2)
5:30 p.m. Sunday, Century Link Field
Line: Seahawks by 3.
Against the Seahawks: The Cardinals are 16-16 against Seattle. … Arizona’s last win in Seattle was Sept. 9, 2012.
What to know: The Cardinals see this as their best chance to dethrone the Seahawks in the NFC West. An Arizona win would put it three games ahead of the Seahawks with seven games left, including the Jan. 3 regular-season finale in Glendale. … Carson Palmer is playing at levels worthy of being the comeback player of the league and maybe MVP. He is third in the NFL in passer rating behind Tom Brady and Andy Dalton at 110.2. Palmer is completing 64.6 percent of his throws. His 20 touchdown passes are second only to Brady, and Palmer has thrown only six interceptions. … Palmer won the 2002 Heisman Trophy as the quarterback for Pete Carroll at USC. Carroll says this season is the best he’s ever seen Palmer play. … Arizona is second in the league in scoring 32.9 points per game and third with 417.2 yards of offense per game. … The Cardinals now have a running game, with the revival of Chris Johnson, a former Titans 2,000-yard back. Johnson’s 676 yards rushing are third-most in the NFL. … WR Larry Fitzgerald is tied for second in the NFL with seven touchdown catches. He is eighth with 55 receptions, at an average of 12.8 yards per catch. … Arizona’s attacking, blitzing defense is third overall (312.8 yards allowed per game); Seattle is second in defense (284.6 yards allowed). … Yet for all the blitzing, Arizona has just 13 sacks in eight games. That’s 27th in the league. … The Cardinals’ run defense is fourth (90.1 yards allowed), partly because trailing foes have had to pass so much.
Quotable: “This game is imperative for us to be able to go up there and take a decisive lead in our division. Big-time playoff implications when you play against the Seahawks. They’re always difficult to play at home; you can’t even hear yourself think in that building.” — Fitzgerald, to Westwood One radio this week.