WATCH: Was Bruton's Hit On Inman Legal?

On Sunday, Chargers WR Dontrelle Inman was injured on a play by Broncos S David Bruton. Doc Bear broke down the film to ascertain whether there was ill intent on the part of Bruton and whether it was a legal hit.

Being in the press box for Sunday’s game was an unreal experience. One more mundane thing was getting my understanding of the degree to which there’s no way that a reporter of any ilk can do much beyond reporting the bare facts of a game that day.

You have a gorgeous view of the field and a lot of broadcast monitors, but you can’t see more than your average fan at home, in one sense. In another — that view of the entire field tells you things that are hard to even put into words.

To really get into what you saw, to understand a given play for example, requires listening to the people who had first hand knowledge of the play, or of the rules that pertain to it. Then, you go back and watch the play — in my case, via NFL Game Pass with my 26-inch HD 720 monitor. I went several times through, using slow motion, broadcast, replay film and coaches film. 

If the angle is there, I strive to be able to see enough to identify the specific muscles that fired at a particular point for the action to unfold. In the case of San Diego Chargers WR Dontrelle Inman’s injury, that was of special importance. Some of the fans, however, were convinced that it was evidence of the Denver Broncos' continued ‘cheap shot’ tactics. Getting the facts became important. 

Some of the Broncos’ defenders have already taken on and been upfront about their comfort in using the label ‘bullies’. They’re very physical, they’re deep, they keep coming at you and they don’t back down. All of that, any fan would agree with.

The questions arise when Aqib Talib pokes his fingers through a face mask, or Malik Jackson tosses a ball at another player’s head. It’s never worth the 15 yards to earn a personal foul. That was the question here — was there a foul? Did the referees miss it? Is is one more reason to claim that the Broncos are cheapshot players?

The facts of the play are these:

San Diego was at 3rd-and-14 on their own 45 yard-line, after a Von Miller sack on Philip Rivers. In an obvious passing down, Rivers was in a 5-WR set, with an empty backfield. Dontrelle Inman, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound second-year receiver came off the snap quickly. With the secondary in off coverage, he tore up along the right sideline and turned when he got to the first down marker, putting his back to the defense. 

He made the catch handily, but appeared to fall to the side as he did. Brandon Marshall came in from the right. He was aiming at Inman’s knees, and snagged him just as the ball was secured. Inman fell to the right and backwards as he made the catch, prior to noticeable contact. It’s possible that Marshall at least touched him, but it’s impossible to tell that from the film. 

2015 Week 13 Inman 1.jpg

As you can see above, David Bruton was coming in from the left and slightly above Inman. You also can see that he’s dropped his knees as far as he can, coiling in an attempt to not hit the receiver high. Inman, though, is already falling. In this image, Inman’s helmet appears higher than Bruton’s. It’s not an illusion. He’s falling from above Bruton’s head.

Now, notice where Bruton’s feet are. They’re heels up, on the Chargers side of the Broncos 40-yard-line. He’s also about 1 yard away from the hashmark. That’s about to be important.

2015 Week 13 Inman 2.jpg

Next, look at Bruton’s feet at the moment when their heads collide. He’s come downhill less than a half yard. He’s moved his feet slightly toward the hash mark and away from contact with Iman. But happens in a split second — and breaking it down on film doesn’t give enough of a feel for how fast this all occurs. It’s Inman’s helmet that collides with Bruton’s, rather than the other way around. Marshall’s tackle may have influenced it, but Inman looked to simply fall, having gotten the first down yardage.  

Bruton didn’t attempt a helmet-to-helmet hit. On the contrary, the image shows him moving toward the hashmark and away from Inman. Unfortunately, Inman fell into the field and into Bruton, who did what he could to prevent it. The rest of the film from this play shows Bruton going over Inman in an obvious attempt to minimize the contact.

All of this happened in a millisecond. It’s a lot easier to break this down in the comfort of my video suite than it is to achieve it on the field. What’s important is that the injury is unfortunate, but that it was not intentional. Nor, in this case, was it preventable.

I half expect the NFL to send Bruton an envelop this week regardless. The league has suggested before that if there is helmet-to-helmet contact, they’re likely to level a fine. In this case, I think that it would be inappropriate, although somehow I doubt they’ll consider this breakdown. Hopefully, though, they’ll watch the play carefully enough to see what really did happen.  

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Doc Bear is a Featured Columnist for MileHighHuddle. You can find him on Twitter @DocBearOMD.

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