NFL defenders have it tough. Get a good rush on the quarterback and all he has to do is get out of the pocket to throw the ball away. Try to make a hard hit on a player, get fined and publicly reprimanded by Roger Goodell and his front office henchmen. Roll into the quarterback on an active play, get a 15-yard penalty.
All of these rules are fine; quarterbacks should be protected and safe play should be of the utmost concern. But sometimes the NFL goes too far in babying the signal callers, as evidenced by the misguided, ill-conceived sliding rule.
[Photos: More Peyton Manning]
According to the NFL rulebook, a quarterback (or any ball carrier) can slide feet first to prevent a hit. When they do so, the ball will be considered dead when the player hits the ground.
The call was overturned because Manning didn't hit the ground until the 43-yard line. The awkward fall notwithstanding, it was a heady play by Peyton. He began his slide early, fell late and got the first down with ease. (The official should have known he was wrong the instant the play was over. Peyton Manning(notes) never makes a mistake like sliding too early.)
But here's the problem: Though the slide and the eventual spot were within the rules, they shouldn't have been. Manning began his slide well before he hit the ground. Because of the NFL's wording of the sliding rule, smart quarterbacks like him can milk a few extra yards out of the rule without any consequence.
Take a look at this picture of the play:
Manning began his slide well before getting the first down. By rule, he's still a live ball carrier because he hasn't hit the ground yet. But if Bernard Pollard(notes) (the flash in white on the left) had been closer and hit Manning during the beginning of the slide, you can be assured he would have earned a 15-yard penalty for his actions. Hit a quarterback in the midst of the fall to the ground and it will draw a flag every time.
[Another terrible NFL rule: Players speak out against hard hit fines]
So, basically, a quarterback is protected from the instant he begins his slide to the moment he touches the ground. For Manning on this particular play, that covered 2 yards. Two yards in which he couldn't be hit, but was free to gain more yards.
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It's time to change the rule. A quarterback should be allowed to slide, but the ball should be spotted at the point where the quarterback began the sliding motion. In the case of the play above, that would be the original, challenged spot of the ball.
Protect the quarterbacks. Don't give them free yards in the process.