Cam Newton, Alex Smith hits reignite debate over protecting QBs

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When asked questions about NFL rules designed to protect quarterbacks, the eyes of Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid shows a flicker of apprehension and calculation, trying to find the fine line where speaking truth to power  doesn’t incur the wrath of league rules that protect officials too.

Kansas City's Alex Smith, right, gets hit by San Diego's Williams Tourek before falling into the end zone for the game winning touchdown in overtime of Sunday afternoon's game at Arrowhead Stadium. (Chris Neal/The Topeka Capital-Journal)
Kansas City’s Alex Smith, right, gets hit by San Diego’s Williams Tourek before falling into the end zone for the game winning touchdown in overtime of Sunday afternoon’s game at Arrowhead Stadium. (Chris Neal/The Topeka Capital-Journal)

“You can answer that question and it won’t cost you anything,” Reid said.

Reid may face more of those questions this week. The debate over the NFL’s concussion protocol and the league’s efforts to protect quarterbacks finds a bright spotlight Sunday with the Kansas City Chiefs and Carolina Panthers meet this Sunday. The matchup between Cam Newton and Alex Smith pairs two mobile quarterbacks who absorb frequent contact without many penalties to show for it so far this season.

Newton and Smith found themselves in similar situations this year. Both quarterbacks sustained multiple jarring hits in a game, raising questions they suffered serious head trauma yet continued playing in the game.

Last week Newton fought back against what he perceives as lack of protection from officials for unsportsmanlike plays and late hits. He told reporters he didn’t feel safe on the field at times, and planned to take up his grievances with commissioner Roger Goodell.

The ensuing media storm left tired of the discussion.

“I’ll let people be the judge of what’s going on,” Newton said. “I’ve stated how I feel about certain things, and I’ll leave it at that.”

Smith, on the receiving end of his own questionable hits, find merit in Newton’s case.

“I have seen some of the hits in the pocket on him that certainly are very questionable — blows to the head that are very questionable,” Smith said. “I don’t know if that’s the case for every quarterback.”

Panthers coach Ron Rivera understands the difficulty of making judgment calls at full speed without the availability of instant replay and slow motion reviews on the field.

“Again it’s about being able to see it,” Rivera said. “They’ve got to judge the force of the impact, whether it’s a forcible blow or not, and then they got to make sure that it is something that has to be called.

Reid also remains realistic, understanding that mobile quarterbacks get hit and that getting hit is part of football.

“I’ve had mobile quarterbacks my whole career including here,” Reid said. “We complain a little bit about it too. There’s that whole human element of making the call. We all want them protected better but you still got to play the game and do all that.”

Rivera added his voice to the growing calls for an eighth official on the field solely responsible for quarterback safety. He also suggests using instant replay to help officials make judgement calls, similar to the college rules reviewing targeting penalties.

“I think colleges have a certain type of system that seems to be working well for them and maybe it’s time for us to look at that as well,” Rivera said. “Again at the end of the day it’s about player safety and making sure we get the right calls.”

Smith said he doesn’t expect perfection from officials, but does believe the league needs to take better responsibility for player safety.

“Accountability is one of the main things this league talks about for everybody,” Smith said. “Everybody is included on that. I do think, a little bit, if there’s some of these that continue to happen, you want to see them get fixed.”

Matt Derrick is the lead beat writer for and the Topeka Capital-Journal. Use the contact page to reach him or find him on Twitter: @MattDerrick.