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Danieal Manning avoids defenseless receiver, draws flag anyway

Indianapolis Colts v Houston Texans

HOUSTON - SEPTEMBER 11: Cornerback Danieal Manning #38 takes the field during the season-opening game at Reliant Stadium on September 11, 2011 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

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If the NFL really wants to protect defenseless players from illegal hits, it’s going to need to do a better job of explaining what constitutes an illegal hit. Texans defensive back Danieal Manning has no idea what’s legal and what’s illegal anymore, and after watching the video of the hit that drew a 15-yard penalty on Manning, neither do I.

Manning was flagged for a hit on Colts receiver Pierre Garcon in the fourth quarter on Sunday, even though Manning pulled up when teammate Johnathan Joseph knocked the ball loose, and the contact between Manning and Garcon consisted of Garcon’s shoulder hitting Joseph’s thigh. After the game Manning seemed more confused than angry about the penalty.

“When I saw the ball knocked out, I was like, ‘Let me slow up before I hit him,’ and he hit me,” Manning said. “He actually hit my thigh.”

If anything, Manning’s attempt to avoid contact with Garcon set Manning himself up for a potential injury, especially if Garcon had hit Joseph just a little bit lower and collided with Joseph’s knee. It’s unfair to defensive backs to put them in positions where they’re trying so hard to avoid helmet-to-helmet collisions with wide receivers that they’re leaving themselves unprotected -- and it’s really unfair to defensive backs to throw a flag on them after they’ve done that.

A big part of the problem with players not knowing what constitutes an illegal hit is that the NFL isn’t transparent enough about the way it evaluates those hits. When an official makes a bad call, the NFL needs to acknowledge it publicly -- not to call out the officials, but to explain to players, coaches and fans what the rules are. When we see plays like Manning’s penalty, we’re not sure if it was a bad call by the official, or the correct enforcement of a bad rule.

But it was definitely one of those things. There’s no way to play defensive back in tackle football if what Manning did is against the rules.