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“I always see my big men getting high-lowed, pinned up and hit in the leg. That’s just as dangerous as hitting somebody in the head,” Miami linebacker Channing Crowder said. “… Shots to the knees, you can’t play with no more knees.”

Barnett, who’s sidelined with a wrist injury, said defensive players are just as vulnerable as offensive players and are often the ones bearing the brunt of both the hard hits and the league’s wrath when things go wrong.

“We have to protect ourselves. When running backs come through the hole, they’re not running with their head up. Their head is straight down, they’re trying to truck you. Are we going to address that?” he asked. “How are we supposed to hit them when they’ve got their head down?”

Barnett suggested the crackdown on helmet hits will tilt the game even more toward the offense’s favor.

“I think the worst thing they should work on is cut blocks. How many people have lost their knees, ankles, thousands of things like that?” Barnett said. “I think the offense gains an advantage from the head contact (emphasis).”

One of the league’s notoriously nasty hitters, Broncos eight-time Pro Bowl safety Brian Dawkins, said before the season began that the league’s rules tweakers will always favor the offensive side of the ball because more fans want to see big plays than big hits.

“I mean, they’ll say like Ray Lewis is a great defensive player, but how many points does he score?” Dawkins said. “Money, baby. They want to see touchdowns. They want to see celebrations in the end zone. The fans do. They don’t want to see 6-3 games. They want to see big plays, big runs, so they’ve more and more and more and more kind of put our hands behind our backs as defensive players.”

On Friday, Dawkins called the league’s crackdown on helmet hits “ridiculous” because it’s hard to avoid them with moving targets dipping and ducking a split-second before impact.

His teammate, defensive end Jason Hunter, said it might take some devastating knee injuries for the league to crack down on the illegal blocks like they have on the helmet hits.

“All I can say is I hope they will look at that and also take that as serious as helmet-to-helmet hits because you’re dealing with guys’ knees and lower extremities,” Hunter said.


AP Sports Writers Chris Jenkins in Green Bay, Wis., Andrew Seligman in Chicago, Tim Booth in Seattle, Steven Wine in Miami and Jon Krawczynski in Eden Prairie, Minn. and AP freelancer Todd McMahon in Green Bay contributed to this story.