Earlier this summer the NFL announced that it was making illegal contact penalties a point of emphasis for the 2014 season.
Defenders aren't allowed to initiate contact with receivers after 5 yards when the quarterback is in the pocket. This has always been a rule, but now the NFL wants to enforce it more diligently than ever before.
The results have been dramatic. In the 2014 preseason, illegal contact penalties were up 450% and defensive holding penalties were up 350% compared with the 2013 preseason, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Guys are getting called for seemingly incidental contact that doesn't impede the progress of the receiver or affect the play.
The NFL released an official video of what it wants to rid from the game.
1. Contact on receivers after 5 yards, even if the ball is thrown to someone else and the contact is inconsequential:
2. Bumping receivers going over the middle:
3. Grabbing the jersey in any way after 5 yards:
The NFL's VP of officiating told SI's Peter King that the dramatic increase in penalties that we saw in the preseason would not go away once the regular season begins.
"We’re not going to change how we’re calling the games once the regular season starts," he said.
The optimal word here is "inconsequential." There are going to be penalties called this year on actions that have no direct impact on the play. In the name of stopping defenders from touching receivers after 5 yards, the league is willing to endure a glut of penalties that will make the games longer, more stilted, and less comprehensible to the average fan, at least initially. It will help offenses — a ton of drives are going to get extended with soft penalty calls — but it's also going to be frustrating.
NFL teams and players have been vocal in their opposition to the tweak.
New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin said:
There are illegal contact penalties where there was no disruption in the route. Contact happens when one turns in one direction and the other was a little behind.
We're still trying to understand and clean it up. Quite frankly, it's a concern if the officials are going to continue calling it into the regular season. We must do something about this to have a chance to compete.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, whose team is widely regarded as the impetus for the rule tweak, said he wanted to talk to the league office about changing the rules:
It doesn’t seem quite right. It seems like there are too many calls being made and too many incidental calls that seem to be affecting the game. So, we’ll see. … It’s obviously different. So, the question is: Is it better? I don’t know.
In time this will blow over. Players and teams will adjust, and at the end of the day officials really don't want to throw a flag on every single play.
But fans are going to hate it during this transition period.
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