Tuesday, October 17, 2006

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

As soon as the yellow flag went into the air for illegal formation at the end of Sunday’s game against Seattle, the Rams sideline erupted in celebration. To them and most everyone else watching, that flag meant more than a 5-yard loss, it meant a 10-second runoff and a St. Louis victory.

But referee Ed Hochuli brought that celebration to an end, explaining that with an illegal formation penalty, there is no 10-second runoff. The Seahawks were penalized 5 yards and given an opportunity to kick the game-winning field goal.

The rest of the story is history, but if there’s anything the Rams can take from that strange and somewhat controversial situation, it’s that there might be a loophole in the rules that could benefit them in the future.

“I think the integrity of the 10-second runoff is in question here,” coach Scott Linehan said. “The whole idea is that you can’t have an illegal play of any kind without any timeouts while the clock’s running, to ensure the chance that you get a chance to get a kick. I’m sure that’s the integrity of the 10-second runoff. The problem with that is, this particular incident that has come up was never really one of the ‘four or five scenarios,’ where there has to be actually a procedure play, like a guy jumping offsides on purpose.”

Using that line of thinking, Linehan reasons, a team could exploit the rule for its own good in a variety of situations. For instance, if a team is out of timeouts and hits on a long pass play with the clock running, that team could have its two receivers who are already downfield and faster than everyone else, run to the line of scrimmage and snap the ball to each other while everyone else on the offense stays in one place.

In that situation, there’s a good chance that not only would the offense be in an illegal formation, but there would then be a strong possibility that the defense would be offsides, causing offsetting penalties. In other words, there might not be any kind of repercussions for committing the infraction with the added bonus that the clock would stop.

The NFL has never had to deal with a play like that, which is part of the problem with what happened Sunday. There are a limited number of plays in which there is a 10 second runoff. As Linehan points out, rules are often changed and amended based on strange situations that occur. Sunday might have been one of those occasions.

“We have a running, updated rulebook in the NFL,” Linehan said. “In college you have the rulebook, but in the NFL you have an amended rule book because they adjust it because of some play that has happened in the past, like when somebody jumps offsides on purpose to stop the clock.”

In this case, if the Rams were to go ahead and send Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt to the line of scrimmage to snap the ball in an illegal formation and the opponent was offsides as well, it would at the least present an opportunity for the NFL to review the rules.

Linehan said Monday he wouldn’t hesitate to take advantage of the loophole if the opportunity presents itself.

“I would think that the easiest thing would be to have the receivers that are 25 yards down the field, snap it to each other and everybody else stay put,” Linehan said. “You save approximately 10-15 seconds when you do that. Before they really stressed lining up in a legal formation (and) making sure everybody’s facing the line and seven are on the ball. We went through that drill quite often. I promise you they’re going to have to figure out a way because that’s what we’re going to do. We’ll figure out a way to get that as one of the penalties that is a runoff, but it doesn’t help us now.”

RAM BITS: The Rams went through a short, but brisk workout Tuesday morning and will do so again Wednesday before parting ways for the bye week…Quarterback Marc Bulger is now ranked third in the NFL in passer rating at 99.8…Running back Steven Jackson continues to hold on to the lead in yards from scrimmage and is second in the league in rushing yards…The offense has enjoyed a meteoric rise through the ranks of the league in the past few weeks, as that unit has climbed to eighth in the league in yards per game…Fullback Madison Hedgecock will have surgery on his broken right thumb today…Center Andy McCollum, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the season opener against Denver, will have surgery on the knee on Oct. 23, one week from today.