Changes the NFL Actually Needs: Penalty Edition
A couple months ago I wrote an article regarding some changes the NFL should be considering for the actual betterment of the game, as crazy as that idea might be. Those changes were major structural differences that have about as much chance of seeing the light of day as the Milwaukee Brewers have of winning a World Series within my lifetime.
The changes I’m going to talk about now are smaller, rule-based tweeks that the competition committee likely considers every offseason before moving on. Some of these changes don’t even have to do with an actual rule change, but merely the enforcement of rules already on the books.
How rules are enforced in the NFL goes in cycles. The penalty for illegal contact is a perfect example. Five to eight years ago the NFL was drunk with illegal contact calls, and with Al Harris and Charles Woodson at corner, the Packers got more than their fair share. A couple years ago the NFL obviously decided things had gotten out of hand and directed the referees to simply stop enforcing the rule. Now you never see an illegal contact call unless it’s a questionable pass interference in a big moment and the ref doesn’t have the balls to call it.
A mere couple seasons ago I would have said that false starts were by far the epidemic of the NFL and the top priority to be addressed. Few things related to football are more annoying than constant stoppages because some guy flinched when no one other than the referee even noticed. It was nearly making the game unwatchable. Guys would fart violently and be called for a false start.
The NFL apparently agreed because for the last couple of seasons we have seen less and less of the flinch false starts, and the NFL has become a little more liberal regarding the type of movement allowed pre-snap. Yes, flinches are still called, but it now seems more dependent on the referee crew than league wide. The crew that did the Packers-Vikings game at Lambeau, for example, were not into calling flinches, and when Evan Dietrich-Smith seemed to struggle with Matt Flynn’s snap count near the end of the game, the tape appeared to show the Packers false started around five or six times with it only being called twice.
So, it is moving in the right direction, but why don’t we just end all this BS right here? Simple. Offensive players can move pre-snap, offensive linemen must have their feet set for at least one second prior to the snap, and the defense can move all they want as long as when the ball is snapped they are on their side of the neutral zone. Boom, you just eliminated at least a couple stoppages per game. Well done.
Roughing the Passer
Yes, it is everybody’s favorite penalty and is probably No. 1 in most fans’ minds as far as problematic penalties go. I would say even though the things you can’t touch on a QB expand all the time, this penalty is not the epidemic that it was a couple years ago. Yes, you are still likely to see a couple a game, especially if you have a big-money QB, but it just seems to me that we are on the downside from the preposterous peak for this call.
The NFL is aware of the public’s disdain for this frequent call and trying to mitigate the angst.
I am not going to say put a skirt on them because the old days are the old days, and you can either live in the past and be bitter or accept the fact that things have changed. What I would like to see, which I know the NFL is reluctant to do, is I would like to see intent being considered.
The NFL doesn’t want intent considered because apparently that would be too much to ask of the referees. They want to make it as black-and-white as they can. Except, for all that, the roughing the passer call is probably the most frequently blown call in football, edging out pass interference. So, apparently the NFL’s attempts to make it simpler have utterly failed. The NFL should recognize this and put intent back into consideration. At the least, this would reduce the number of blown calls by reducing the overall number of calls made.
If a defender attempts to knock the ball down and his hands follow through and tap the quarterback in the head, that should NOT be a penalty. There was no intent there. If a defender comes in for a clean hit and there is helmet contact because the quarterback ducked his head at the last second, that should NOT be a penalty. The defender did not intend to hit the quarterback in the head. Yes, it is not always easy to judge intent, but I would take a play standing where a penalty should have been called over a play that should have stood being overturned due to a bogus call any day.
I am not one of these college football does it better guys. I’ll take the NFL rules over the college rules in most instances. However, when it comes to pass interference, the college game has it right. A 15-yard penalty and an automatic first down is a steep enough price to pay for pass interference. Is the NFL afraid that defensive backs will be more willing to interfere if you lessen the penalty? So what? The receiver is nearly always bigger than the defender and typically has the advantage anyway.
And who knows? If you make this the rule, then maybe the refs would actually be willing to call a pass interference penalty during a hail mary instead of just letting that play be a free-for-all. Maybe the refs would be willing to call it in the playoffs again, which have become almost like a new game with the rules being enforced so differently.
And the enforcement of offensive pass interference always comes and goes in cycles. They need to get back to calling it. Virtually every back-shoulder pass comes with a push off. It is impossible for the defender to stop, which isn’t fair. If separation is gained solely through physical contact, then you need to call that. If the defender isn’t allowed to hold to stop a receiver from separating, then the receiver can’t be allowed to push off to do the same. As much as I hate to see more penalties being called, call it.
Here’s a no brainer. A personal foul penalty should not be canceled out by another penalty. Don’t you get a kick out of that? You’ll be watching a game and there’ll be a personal foul call, except its offset by a holding call. Say what? That makes no sense. Personal fouls should always be enforced.
Hey, I could go on, but those four will do nicely.
Shawn Neuser attended UWGB and lives and works in Green Bay. He enjoys long walks on the beach and being intimate with game film.