Hip-drop tackle that took out Ravens’ Mark Andrews is polarizing — even within Baltimore’s locker room

NFL execs have said the hip drop leads to 25% more injuries, but defensive players say it’d be unfair to remove it from the game

Published 11/17/2023 1:35 a.m. EST, Updated 11/17/2023 1:28 p.m. EST

In a tough divisional battle, a critical game, the Ravens watched as one star, then another, got stopped by a hip-drop tackle and injured.

One, quarterback Lamar Jackson, returned to the game. The other, tight end Mark Andrews, did not — and he is likely out for the season, according to Ravens coach John Harbaugh.

Both tackles were made by Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson, who has spoken out against a potential ban on hip-drop tackles. He also tackled wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. on the play on which Beckham injured his shoulder late in the game.

Wilson was not made available by the Bengals for interviews after the game.

Harbaugh pointed out after the game that Jackson and Andrews were injured on the same type of play. He said the team flags plays and sends them to the NFL after games. He indicated both of those will be among those sent in this week.

“Was it even necessary in that situation?” Harbaugh questioned, thinking about the play that likely ended Andrews’ season. Bengals coach Zac Taylor refused to address the topic when asked after the game.

It’s possibly you hadn’t heard about the hip-drop tackle prior to Thursday night, but the topic has been hotly debated in NFL circles recently.

What is the hip-drop tackle?

At league meetings in October, Rich McKay, the chairman of the NFL’s competition committee, described the move as a tackle in which a defender encircles his opponent and then drops his weight down to bring him to the ground. This often causes the defender’s legs to swing around the offensive player’s body, taking them out behind the knees.

The technique is frequently used by smaller players to generate momentum to pull down larger players.

McKay called it the “cousin” of the banned horse-collar tackle. League officials admitted at the meetings that they are having difficulty defining what is and isn’t a hip-drop tackle.

Why is it controversial?

When the defender swings his weight, he can fall on the opponent’s leg or ankle, said Jeff Miller, the NFL’s executive vice president of communications, public affairs and policy, at a league meeting last month. Hip-drop tackles increase the rate of injury by 25%, he said.

McKay said the tackle renders the ball carrier “defenseless” so that he can’t kick his legs out of the way from the collision. The league is gathering data for a study whether to ban the technique.

The NFLPA, on the other hand, has protested such a move. The players’ union has spoken out on topics related to players’ health and safety, such as the push to replace artificial surfaces with real grass, but has sided with defensive players — who, after all, make up about half the membership — on this issue.

“Any prohibition on the ‘hip-drop tackle’ technique is unfair to players and unrealistic to implement,” the NFLPA said in a statement. “It places defensive players in an impossible position by creating indecision in the mind of any tackling player, puts officials in an unreasonable situation that will result in inconsistent calls on the field, and confuses our fans.”

When Wilson heard about the potential ban, he responded on X, formerly known as Twitter, “No shot.”

Wilson is hardly alone. He has allies across the league, including within the Ravens’ locker room.

Prohibiting another type of tackle will make the game even harder, linebacker Patrick Queen said.

“I mean, at the end of the day, we play football,” he said. “And I hate that Mark’s hurt. Prayers for him. But, at the end of the day, we play football, we play a tackling sport. I don’t think a hip-drop tackle is that bad of a thing. How else do you want us to tackle them?”

Safety Kyle Hamilton has a similar view.

“Targeting, it’s kind of understandable,” he said. “The hip drop, I feel like you can’t necessarily [avoid it] because you don’t know exactly what’s gonna happen. ... You’re trying to get them down by any means necessary. I mean, if it happens that way, it happens that way. I don’t think anybody means anything malicious by it.”

Fullback Patrick Ricard understands their point of view and appreciates the defense’s need to stop the offense by any means necessary. He, himself, has never been tackled through this method— “and I don’t want to.” But he also has questions, especially after watching Andrews go down Thursday.

“Maybe this kind of tackle, of tackling and then sweeping your legs and injuring guys’ ankles and stuff like that, maybe that should get looked at, if possible, for next year of being a type of tackle that should be banned because it’s just dangerous,” Ricard said. “It’s very hard to tackle grown men, I understand that. But, if guys are getting injured, maybe the NFL should look at it.”

High-profile injuries

Both of Wilson’s tackles spelled bad news for the Ravens. They lost one of their most consistent targets in Andrews. Jackson returned to the game but not at full strength — and the Ravens’ fortunes rise and fall with Jackson.

There have been several notable injuries caused by hip-drop tackles around the league.

On Oct. 2, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith injured his knee after New York Giants linebacker Isaiah Simmons tackled him and landed on the back of his legs. Smith, who was furious, returned to the game but spoke out, saying “It was a dirty play. There’s no place in this sport for that.”

On Jan. 21, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes suffered a high ankle sprain in the divisional playoffs when Jacksonville Jaguars defensive lineman Arden Key rolled down his body and onto his ankle.

Before that, Cowboys running back Tony Pollard broke his leg and injured his ankle when San Francisco 49ers safety Jimmie Ward took him down in a similar fashion.

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