Iloka backs Steelers’ Mitchell, defends Smith-Schuster hit

3:57 p.m Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017 Journal-News Sports

Finally, something the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers can agree on.

One day after having his suspension overturned by the NFL and saying “they made the right decision,” Bengals safety George Iloka concurred with comments made by Steelers safety Mike Mitchell on Wednesday.

“I personally think, like Mike said, if you start suspended guys for that, the league is going to turn into a brand of football in which, if you’re worried about losing viewers, you’ll lose a lot more,” Iloka said. “Fines. Understandable. Repeat offenders. Understandable. Plays away from the ball, off ball incidents, post-whistle kind of things. OK, all right. Those might warrant suspensions if deemed unreasonable.

“But on-ball kind of plays, which are football plays, to suspend for that is going to set a bad precedent to where guys are just going to pull up and give away things,” Iloka added. “I’m not a betting man, but I can guarantee you next if will be Vegas complaining, talking about they’re throwing these games and things like that.”

Iloka pointed to the play where William Jackson stopped short of hitting Pittsburgh running back Le’Veon Bell because he appeared to be heading out of bounds, only to watch him to stay in bounds and score a 35-yard touchdown.

“That, to me, I would turn off football to see plays like that,” he said. “(Jackson)told you legit, ‘I was scared of getting a personal foul.’”

Iloka said the hit he originally was suspended for is a football play and took exception to the suggestion it was in response to the hit JuJu Smith-Schuster delivered against Vontaze Burfict, resulting in the Bengals linebacker leaving the field strapped to a backboard on a cart.

The Smith-Schuster hit, which Iloka defended, also drew a one-game suspension that will be served Sunday after the rookie receiver’s appeal was denied.

“I heard people say it was for retaliation,” Iloka said. “No. Not the case. There’s just 3 minutes and some change left and they’re going for a tie. He throws the ball into a tight window and I tried to make a play. Whether it be a random team like the Detroit Lions, the Steelers, the Browns, anybody, just take away my name, take away the receiver, take away the team names, that’s what you want each player to do in that situation.

“You expect the quarterback to throw into a tight window,” he continued. “You expect the receiver to go up for the catch. And you expect the safety to try to draw the ball free. Period. Just take away the names. It’s not that deep. It was a football play. Just like JuJu’s was a football play. It’s just obviously like they said and a lot of people said, no one agrees with him standing over someone that’s hurt. But football plays are football plays, and this game is violent. We know that.”

Mitchell defended Iloka on Twitter after the suspension was announced, saying he’s not a dirty player. Iloka and Mitchell work out together in the offseason and talk at times during the season.

Iloka said he didn’t think Mitchell was defending him so much as he was sticking up for the game they play and love.

“He obviously understands the position we’re in week in and week out,” Iloka said. “I think he’s just speaking for the future of the game. I’m going to be in that position five more times this next game, and the game after that. That’s the position we’re in as safeties. Quarterbacks are going to throw into tight windows and you’ll be in that situation a lot. It feels like what am I supposed to do? What would you want your safety on your team to do? Just concede us a touchdown?

“That’s not how anybody should want the game to be,” he added. “Not a fan, not a coach and not a player. Period. I think that’s what (Mitchell) sees. He’s like man, if you’re suspended after football plays, what are we doing? We’re not playing football anymore. It’s just flag football. If you want a flag, go to your local college intramural league, not what we’re doing here.”

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