FanHouse's resident referee will chime in weekly with thoughts on major topics relating to officiating. We call it The Zebra Report. Matt Snyder is a high school official with eight years experience. While this is like a third-year resident critiquing the work of a world-renowned surgeon, it's still better than someone who has never worn the stripes.
As we get later in the season, there will likely be less for me to cover here. Sure, an uncovered gem like the free kick field goal could be unearthed. Generally speaking, though, I've probably covered most of the tricky rules interpretations by now. The point of the Zebra Report is not to give a forum for people to complain about obvious blown calls. In the past, you've seen me type, "we all saw it," when mistakes have been made. My aim, instead, is to focus on actual rules, positioning, and to maybe even speculate (with disclaimers, of course) what the official may have been thinking when making a judgment.
With this in mind, we only have three items this week. Worry not, my friends, because you will most certainly get your money's worth.
Item one: Andre Johnson reaches for the pylon, but it's not there!
I know it's because of my mentality, but as that play was transpiring this was the first thing I noticed. He was headed straight for the front corner of the end-zone and there was no pylon. My initial thought was that a player on the field was in the area and accidentally knocked it out of the way with one of his feet. Then, when viewing the replay, you could clearly see the pylon was even with the goal-line and about three yards off the sideline ... standing upright!
Seriously, it looked like someone placed it there on purpose (check out all the white space between the pylon and the field in this picture).
What I do know is that ultimately the field markings are the responsibility of the officiating crew. What I don't know is how this is carried out in an NFL setting. In high school, we walk the field before the game and make sure everything has been put in place properly. The overwhelming majority of the time -- if not 100 percent of the time -- we have to move something: A pylon, a yard marker, move a bench back, etc.
The NFL officials have a much more difficult job and I doubt the burden is placed upon them to check out all this stuff. Plus, with only 16 games per week, you'd think the NFL could find people who know where to put the pylons.
I wish I had an answer as to why that thing wasn't in the correct place. Maybe a cheerleader knocked it over and put it in the wrong place in a panic? Maybe some sideline personnel for one of the teams were late and knocked it over? Whatever happened, you can tell a person tried to put it back, and just missed the mark.
The fortunate thing here is that the play wasn't affected. Johnson clearly got the ball inside the corner of the end-zone and scored a legal touchdown.
Item two: Wes Welker absolutely blown up by Ryan Clark and draws a flag.
My personal opinion on the hit is that it was a very close judgment call, but I wouldn't call penalties on many of the hits that were garnering flags this season. I agree with the stance that you're gonna get hit in football. I've been defending the officials all along, however, by saying it's a league-wide mandate from Roger Goodell to cut down on hits against defenseless players. This seems far worse than most of them. So I was ready to get on here and defend the official for throwing the flag.
Then I saw all the comments under Ryan Wilson's piece, and I was even more ready to defend the official. Welker was definitely defenseless, and had no chance to catch the football after it was batted. I realize Clark didn't lead with his helmet, but there have been a few unnecessary roughness penalties this season where the contact was with the shoulder. In those cases, it was deemed the defenseless receiver has protection, even when the ball has just bounced out of his hands -- one in particular was a penalty on Kenny Phillips which I reviewed in the intro to this previous report.
"A lot of people think it's a foul to leave your feet," NFL vice president of officiating Mike Pereira said yesterday from New York. "Launching is not a foul. There is nothing in the rulebook that states that at all. It's a misconception people have.
"It is a foul to hit with your helmet against a defenseless receiver. It is a foul to throw a forearm into the neck or head area of your opponent. I don't think either of those things happened. I'm not a fan of those high hits but if you do it with your shoulder you're OK."
I understand that. I know leaving your feet isn't a penalty and that Clark did lead with his shoulder. The next point made was that the ball was still live. It was also still live in the Phillips penalty I mentioned above. Why the difference?
For the record, Pereira did defend the official who threw the flag, saying that they are instructed to err on the side of caution and flag when in doubt.
I greatly respect Pereira -- he knows a helluva lot more than me on this subject -- but if I was the official who made this call I would be a bit confused. It just seems like mixed signals when the Phillips play is roughing and the Clark hit is not.
Item three: Scoring is way up in the NFL, and some blame the officiating.
An interesting take, to be sure. This article in the New York Times raises several interesting points of discussion. The discussion is concerning the point-explosion we've seen this season, as games are averaging more points than they ever have since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. There's a discussion on the "dink and dunk" games as opposed to the deep ball. Defenses are loading up against the big play, and being underneathed to death via the pass.
Of course, some defensive players -- since, you know, it's never their fault -- blame the officiating.
Holding calls are down. Emphasis is being placed on roughing the passer. Cue defensive complaining!
"It seems like they take another part of him out every year," Giants defensive lineman Justin Tuck said. "Obviously, you don't want to hit the guy in the head, but we can't hit below the knees and we can't fall on him. You're not necessarily making us back off him. You're making us hate the quarterback more."
Hey, as a former defensive player myself, I'm all about hating the quarterback -- plus, as a Bears fan, I never get to cheer for good ones. I can sympathize.
Involved in the discussion, also, are points about how the short passing game doesn't allow as much time for pass rushing, hence the increase in roughing calls and decrease in holds. If the quarterback is releasing the ball within three seconds, the defense doesn't have enough time to reach him, but they may be close and hit him after he releases the pass.
Either way, if you don't like the increased scrutiny placed upon roughing, illegal contact, or other controls placed upon defense; please don't shoot the messenger. The officials are out there to call the game by the rules they've been given. If the rules seem a bit slanted towards the offenses, well, that's probably not an accident. Just ask Cris Collinsworth:
"Who wants to watch 13-10 anymore," Collinsworth said, "when we can see 65-64?"
That's all I've got for this week. I'll be back next week. This was certainly not an all-inclusive list of calls which were whined about by fans. As I said in the intro, that isn't the aim of Zebra Report.
As always, if you want a rule or play reviewed (even if it's a local 8th grade game), you may submit one to our mailbox.
Zebra Report: Misplaced Pylon, Welker Leveled, and Scoring Rise Due to Officiating? originally appeared on NFL FanHouse on Wed, 03 Dec 2008 14:45:00 EST . Please see our terms for use of feeds.