Game officials didn’t suddenly notice Dallas Cowboys long snapper L.P. Ladouceur’s habit of adjusting the ball before he snaps it, and call a controversial penalty.
The Washington Redskins tipped the officials off.
It’s a pretty fascinating little story that shows how detail-oriented NFL coaches are. According to longtime NFL reporter Ed Werder, Washington special teams coach Ben Kotwica noticed during the team’s preparation for Sunday’s game that Ladouceur moved the ball, and that could be a penalty. Werder said Kotwica told Jay Gruden, who “alerted game officials and encouraged them to watch for it.”
Then, with the Cowboys lining up for a game-tying field goal in the final minute, that little detail became a very big deal.
Redskins jumped offsides when snapper moved the ball
Ladouceur adjusted the ball to get ready for the snap and Washington players jumped offsides. That clearly seemed to be an attempt to force officials into a call. They waited for a big moment too; Ladouceur had done something similar before other snaps in the game but the Redskins hadn’t moved to cause a penalty flag to be thrown.
The officials called Ladouceur for a snap infraction, a 5-yard penalty. A 47-yard attempt was suddenly a 52-yard attempt, and Cowboys kicker Brett Maher hit the upright. Ladouceur said after the game he couldn’t believe the penalty was called, and that through his 14-year career he’d done the “exact same thing.” He said he had never been called for a penalty.
“I just adjust it down so I can put my hands on the bottom of it so I can snap it in the right direction,” he said, according to the Dallas Morning News. “Exact same thing I’ve been doing for 14 years.”
— NFL Officiating (@NFLOfficiating) October 21, 2018
And this time, an incredibly rare penalty was called. Maybe Maher would have missed anyway, but the penalty couldn’t have helped. It looked like a genius stroke from the Redskins coaches.
A big shift off of one obscure penalty
Stories of NFL coaches working 80 or 100 hours in a week are common. But they work that long to try to find the one small thing that could change a game.
This particular situation seems very rare. Coaches might find a tendency for an opponent to not to as well if he’s forced to move right or left, but how many times do they find a habit that could produce a potential penalty in all that film study?
Kotwica had to spot Ladouceur adjusting the ball on film, and think about how intently you’d need to watch film to find that. He had to know it was a potential penalty. Then Washington presumably taught its players what to watch for and how to react to it if they saw it, and which situation to execute it.
Maybe that miss changes the playoff picture too. The difference in winning or losing a divisional game is enormous. Give the Redskins’ coaches credit for helping their team get a big win Sunday.
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