The NFL once again has suspended Washington safety Brandon Meriweather for his latest blow to the head of an opponent, which the league said is his sixth violation of player safety rules.
The league announced Monday that Meriweather will be suspended for the first two regular season games for his helmet-to-helmet hit on receiver Torrey Smith in the second quarter of Saturday night's preseason win over the Baltimore Ravens.
Meriweather will miss the opener against the Houston Texans on Sept. 7 and the Sept. 14 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. He will not be allowed to attend team meetings or practices or appear at the team's facilities for any reason during the suspension.
The sanction was levied by Troy Vincent, a longtime NFL safety and now the league's executive vice president of football operations. The league said Vincent determined that Meriweather "delivered a forceful blow to the head and neck area of a defenseless receiver with no attempt to wrap up or make a conventional tackle."
The league said Meriweather has previously been disciplined five times for illegal hits to defenseless players. He was suspended two games last season after two helmet-first hits in a win over the Chicago Bears, but the penalty was reduced to one game after an appeal.
Leads with his helmet
Meriweather's tendency to lead with his helmet — and aim for an opponent's head — has been a major point of concern since he joined Washington in 2012. On the play against Baltimore, he and Smith lowered their heads at roughly the same time as Smith went for a pass over the middle, but Meriweather lowered the crown of his helmet and clearly wasn't going for a hit instead of attempting a tackle. The pass was incomplete, and Meriweather was given a 15-yard penalty for a personal foul.
"I'm trying to do what the NFL asks of me," Meriweather said after the game. "After going through this off-season and working on the things that I need to work on, I get the first chance, and it seems like I failed."
Meriweather also suggested he's being held to a higher standard because of his past.
"I think they've been keeping a close eye on me for the last couple years," he said. "I'm just going to continue to work on my game and try to get lower to do the things they want me to do."
Coach Jay Gruden, speaking before the suspension was announced, said Meriweather was trying to avoid hitting Smith's helmet.
"He saw the ball and he tried to lower his target," Gruden said. "Unfortunately, as he was lowering his target, the receiver felt him and lowered his head also at the same time. It was a bang-bang play."
Meriweather can appeal the suspension. If it is upheld, the will have few options at an already thin position for the start of the regular season. Safety Phillip Thomas' status is in doubt after he reinjured his left foot, and fellow backup Bacarri Rambo has not tackled well in the open field. Ryan Clark is the other starter.