GREEN BAY - As part of the NFL's emphasis on player safety the last few years, more and more defensive players are being flagged penalties like unnecessary roughness, hitting a defenseless receiver, hitting a player high or hitting the quarterback late. While the rules are the rules, is the coaching going to catch up with the changing ways they are enforced?
"You know what, I try not to get frustrated about it because I can't control it,” said Packers outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene.
Back when he played, Kevin Greene's picture was in the NFL dictionary next to hard hitting linebacker.
“As a former player, you notice the flags are flying, you notice they're flying an inordinate amount,” stated Greene.
According to nflpenalties.com, a site that tracks flags, the Packers were flagged nine times for unnecessary roughness this season, tied for fifth most in the NFL. One of Greene's pupils, Nick Perry, was flagged and fined $15,000 for a hit on Andrew Luck.
"Things happen so quickly, the reaction time it takes to make a little adjustment in a strike point is just so small,” said Greene.
You hear it often in the locker room, though, players get flagged, and they get fined.
Then they say they look at the film and coaches say you did everything right.
Like safety Jerron McMillian, flagged and fined $21,000 for a hit on Giants tight end Martellus Bennett.
"My coaches tell me it was a good play, I did everything I'm supposed to do when I hit a defender… all they say is, ‘What else can you do in that situation?’" said McMillian.
The NFL rulebook is exhaustive, among things you can't do is use any part of your helmet to hit an opponent violently or unnecessarily. Another common cause for flags, unnecessary contact against a player who is in a defenseless posture, that covers quarterbacks who just threw the ball or receivers trying to catch it.
In the rule book, there is a note that says: When in question about a roughness call or potentially dangerous tactics, the covering official(s) should always call unnecessary roughness.
The question… Is there a point when NFL coaches, when Packers coaches, start telling their guys to do something differently?
If the flags and fines are going to keep coming for these violent hits, will the NFL eventually force them to adapt.
"You can't let plays like that slow you down. The league is making a big point of player safety, we understand that, the thing we have to do is continue to play with an aggressive mentality,” said Packers safeties coach Darren Perry.
"As long as they're down on the body, a guys not stopping and launching himself around the head area, you continue to coach it the way you've always coached it. I don't know how else you coach it, you don't coach the guy to stop and let a guy catch the ball,” said Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers.
It's a problem for players, too, especially those feeling it in their wallets.
One Packers player who was fined for an illegal hit, didn't want to talk on camera, told FOX 11 off camera, you have to do anything you can to make a play. The risk is between being fined and being fired, as in if you don't make the play, you might lose your spot.
"You do think about that, they're giving big fines, you're losing a lot of money. I guess, football, you can't hit nobody in the head no more, that's another target you've just got to go low,” said Packers cornerback Sam Shields.
“There's a lot of variables there. The speed of the game is so ballistic, reactions happen so fast, accidents are going to happen… you try to keep your players hunting as much as possible, but there's a fine line you try to keep them back. You try to coach the right things and the right fundamentals, how to tackle quarterbacks the right way. It's a fine line to keep your players being that hunter on the gridiron, but keep them from going over the edge,” said Greene.
The favorite phrase is fine line. It's a fine line between a big, legal hit and one that draws a penalty and a bill from the NFL. The Packers say they have no choice but to continue walking that fine line.