October 19, 02012
By Ben Austro, footballzebras.com, special to NFP
With three weeks under their belts, fans have come to truly appreciate the work of the regular officials and the work they do to keep the game running smoothly.
With the pall of the replacement era lifted, we find ourselves really looking for questionable calls or confusing applications of the rules. The calls that are getting mentioned the most are holding and pass interference.
Each crew (more specifically, the three deep officials on each crew) has its own calibration for calling pass interference. That is okay, as long as the calls are not made arbitrarily. Typically, players will try to see the limits of the subjective calls for holding and pass interference. In both fouls, the official is looking for a player to leverage an advantage over the other. While you can argue that some form of holding occurs on every play, the times that draw the penalties are situations where the hold is the only method where a player can contain his opponent. When there is a mutual lock-up between two linemen, neither is gaining an unfair advantage, even if one overpowers the other.
However, there is such a thin line to determine pass interference at full speed that it appears that marginal calls are being made. Because the NFL marks defensive pass interference at the spot of the foul, two fouls can account for more than half of the football field. I am expecting that the officiating department is taking notice, and will, in its weekly game film for the officials, indicate there should be looser calls on pass interference.
Intentional grounding to end the half
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady unloaded a pass in the back of the end zone with one second remaining in the first half. While the Patriots were preparing for a field goal attempt, referee Clete Blakeman consulted his crew and penalized Brady for intentional grounding. There are three elements to intentional grounding: (1) no receiver in the area of the pass, (2) the quarterback is under threat of a sack, and (3) the quarterback is inside the “tackle box” (an imaginary box behind where the five offensive lineman were lined up at the snap).
An intentional grounding penalty inside one minute of the half is illegally conserving time, and a 10-second runoff is assessed. If less than 10 seconds are on the clock, the half ends. However, if the Patriots had a timeout remaining, they would be allowed to use the timeout to counter the 10-second runoff.
Because there was no receiver near the area of the pass, especially since the ball landed three yards beyond the end line, this was a clear-cut case for Blakeman to call intentional grounding and declare the half over.
Quarterback's false starts
Officials are cracking down on Quarterbacks like Philip Rivers, who use their voices and sudden movements to draw defenses offsides.
Referee Jeff Triplette seemed to be calling bizarre false start penalties against Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers on Monday night. Turns out, Triplette is right, as the NFL made quarterback's quick gestures a point of emphasis for false start penalties. When the NFL's Competition Committee issues a point of emphasis, it means that existing rules are sufficient, but that the committee believes officials should pay attention to a particular rules interpretation. In this case, the committee felt that too many encroachment penalties had been called against the defense because of the quarterback's sudden movements to simulate the snap.
Ordinarily, officials would have four preseason games to work with the new rules and points of emphasis without impacting the games that count. With the lockout of the union officials from preseason through Week 3, it was their replacements that received the exhibition games to work out the degree of enforcement the officiating office anticipated. By the time we get to the midpoint of the season, we would be effectively at the same point as the second week of the season. This takes nothing away from the reassuring way the officials have returned and called games very well, but without direction from the league office in the preseason, there are 121 opinions on how to implement the revisions to the rulebook.
Ben Austro is the founder and editor of football officiating blog footballzebras.com. Follow him on Twitter: @footballzebras