- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 6, 2006

More than a week later, Mathias Kiwanuka still was a topic of conversation.

Redskins defensive ends Andre Carter and Phillip Daniels on Monday discussed the play in which Kiwanuka, a New York Giants rookie defensive end, wrapped up quarterback Vince Young for an apparent sack on fourth-and-10 in the fourth quarter of a game against Tennessee.

But thinking that Young had thrown the ball and fearing a roughing the passer penalty, Kiwanuka let him go. Young scrambled for a first down, and the Titans went on to score a touchdown and beat the Giants, erasing a 21-point second-half deficit. Depending on whether they make the playoffs, it might be the most fateful play of the Giants’ season.

For those who play defense, especially players whose job description includes harassing the quarterback, it certainly was among the most attention-getting. Few are blaming Kiwanuka.

“It could have been me,” said Daniels, an 11-year veteran.

It wasn’t so much a rookie mistake, they say, as it was being naturally cautious in an environment in which quarterbacks have become increasingly protected.

Or overprotected.

“Phil and I were talking about how the league has kind of changed to where it’s more beneficial for the offense,” Carter said. “And we were mentioning quarterbacks. It just seems like when the game is on the line and you have to take a shot at the quarterback, there’s that one split second where you have to hesitate.”

Added Daniels, “I think people who own those sack records, the Reggie Whites, it’s gonna be hard to break those records. Quarterbacks are so protected.”

Daniels and Carter aren’t alone. And it’s not just those who play the game.

“Let me tell you what’s happened to these defensive players,” Dallas Cowboys coach Bill Parcells told reporters. “What’s happened to them is they’ve become so cognizant of not roughing the passer. You can hardly hit them anywhere without getting a penalty. You can’t hit them below the waist. You can’t hit them with the crown of your helmet. You can’t hit them head to head. You can’t hit them anywhere.”

The NFL apparently won’t even try to hide its intent. Quarterback is the most important position, and a good one is a franchise’s most precious investment. As Mike Pereira, the league supervisor of officials, told the Associated Press, “Our primary concern is to protect the quarterback. He’s the most vulnerable player out there, and the rules are designed to keep him healthy.”

Pereira added, “We’re going to make mistakes.”

He was talking about a play during last week’s “Monday Night Football” game, in which Green Bay’s Cullen Jenkins was flagged for roughing the passer because the referee believed Jenkins hit Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck with his helmet. Replays showed Jenkins popped Hasselbeck with his shoulder, a legal play. A sack would have ended the Seahawks’ drive. Instead, Seattle scored the winning touchdown.

Earlier in the season, Daniels was fined $5,000 for “excessive contact” on Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning even though no penalty was called. Manning’s helmet was knocked off and he later joked that he checked to see whether his head was inside it. But Daniels said it was purely incidental.

“Peyton Manning was back there, holding the ball, Andre had him wrapped around the waist, I had my arm on his chest,” he said. “He dropped to his knees. My arm ended up sliding up to his helmet. I turn him loose, and his helmet pops off, and they fine me for being too aggressive.”

With just two roughing the passer penalties, both against linebacker Marcus Washington (although one really was committed by Daniels), the Redskins are among the league’s lightweights when it comes to infractions against quarterbacks. Part of that might be attributed to the overall lack of a pass rush this season, but there also is an increased awareness.

“You don’t want to hurt your team by giving [the opponent] a big penalty,” Washington said. “We try to keep our penalties to a minimum.”

The problem with that, however, is “any time you’re thinking, you’re not being aggressive,” he said.

Redskins broadcaster Sam Huff, who as a middle linebacker for the New York Giants and the Redskins in 1950s and 1960s, helped give the position the identity of being played by angry, intimidating dispensers of punishment who would hit a player anywhere at any time, including out of bounds. But he says he never went after a quarterback in an illegal fashion.

“When I played, you know who I had the most respect for? The quarterbacks,” he said. “It’s the toughest position to play. You have to have guts to stand back there.”

Huff said he would still thrive under today’s rules. One of his legendary hits, when he knocked out Dallas Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith, was completely legit, he said.

“I hit him in the chest with my helmet,” Huff said. “That’s a legal tackle, even to this day.”

But Huff is among the legions who decry how the rules, not just those that protect the quarterback, have become heavily biased toward the offense. Probably the most cited example is the rules change that prohibited defenders from making contact with receivers beyond 5 yards past the line scrimmage. It totally transformed the passing game and the way pass defense is played.

“I admire [receivers] like Jerry Rice because that’s when cornerbacks challenged them,” Carter said. “Nowadays you see a lot more records being broken because you only have this small space to cover them.”

Scoring always has sold with the public. Carter’s father, Ruben Carter, played nose tackle in the NFL from 1975 through 1987 “back when it was hard-nosed football,” Andre said. “When men were men. He always said that the league or just people in general just want to see more points on the board.”

Of course, it’s the quarterbacks who are most responsible for that.

“The league has always catered to quarterbacks,” Redskins defensive end Demetric Evans said. “It’s a quarterback league, for the most part. I can understand it, but as a defensive player, I don’t agree with it.”

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