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  • Clayton: Cracking Down on Corners

    Illegal Contact Enforcement Could Have Huge Impact
    By John Clayton
    ESPN.com

    The hardest thing to figure about the 2004 season is the impact of the NFL's desire to enforce contact or interference penalties after five yards.

    Some people you talk to tell you the impact will be minimal. Those are the same people who misjudged the impact of Charlie Weis's short passing offense on the opening years of the new millennium. The Patriots have won two Super Bowls despite not having marquee wide receivers. I still can't forget calling defensive coordinators before the 2002 season asking about how to defense the Weis's offense. Some pointed out Tom Brady's shaky numbers down the stretch run of 2001 and said that New England's short-passing attack was nothing to worry about. Guess what, other teams copied some of the Patriots ideas and the impact was huge.

    The same can be said about tougher enforcement of illegal contact by defensive backs. In many ways, it's the most significant rule adjustment in about a decade but the weird part is the rule hasn't actually changed. Now it's just going to be enforced to the letter of the law.

    Competition Committee members Mike Martz, Mike Holmgrem and others were appalled at the number of replays featuring cornerbacks mugging receivers and getting away with it. They had watched it with their own players during the season, but to see the extent of it league-wide was troubling.

    To come to the defense of the officials calling the plays, pass interference and illegal contact calls were enforced on a reasonably consistent basis during the regular season. After all, fans don't like to watch yellow flag after yellow flag being thrown. Football is a contact sport no doubt. The 238 interference calls worked out to an average of .93 a game, not even close to the 310 called in fewer games in 1998. Illegal contacts penalties were a manageable 79, .31 a game.

    Then came the playoffs. Both championship games became Fantasy Island for cornerbacks. The Patriots cornerbacks squat on receiver routes at about 10 yards and get very physical. Colts receivers and tight ends had their jerseys held and their bodies bumped. The situation in Philadelphia wasn't as bad, but Panthers cornerbacks bragged about how physical they were against the Eagles receivers in the NFC Championship.

    The Committee asked the league officiating department if officials were calling penalties differently in the playoffs. To their surprise, they received an honest answer. They were. The league knows ratings are at their highest during the playoffs. Fans don't like flags. So, cornerbacks had to clearly violate the rules to draw them.

    What was determined was the illegal contact rule was poorly worded. In 1994, the Competition Committee grew tired of cornerbacks mugging receivers and put in new wording to open up the receiver's ability to get away from physical cornerbacks. But the problem was that some of the language that was inserted was contradictory.

    In one part you had the new language reading: "If the receiver attempts to evade the defender, the defender cannot chuck him or extend an arm(s) to cut off or hook him, causing contact that impedes and restricts the receiver as the play develops."

    But there was also a passage that was inserted for fairness to the cornerback or safety in coverage who banged into a receiver and it read: "Beyond the five-yard zone, if the player who receives the snap remains in the pocket with the ball, a defender may use his hands or arms only to defend or protect himself against the impending contact caused by a receiver."

    The first passage above is saying that defenders cannot impede a receiver after five yards if the receiver is trying to evade them, however, the second passage actually gives defenders some leeway to impede receivers.

    The idea of the rule was to allow unimpeded running by a receiver after five yards. In sentence No. 1, the defender can use his hands or arms "only" to defend or protect himself against impending contact caused by a receiver. The second sentence gives the defender a license to use contact.

    The extra contact has had a significant impact on passing offenses. Last season was the worst passing numbers in 11 years. The average team passed for 200.45 yards per game, lowest since 1992. The average completion dropped to 11.3, down from 12.1 in 1998.

    The intent of the 1994 "chuck" revision was violated. Out goes the word only and into the rule book goes language that tells defenders not to restrict or impede a receiver "in any way." Defenders can get away with incidental contact but not get away with any intentional contact.


    Making an impact
    Here are some predictions on the impact of the NFL's decision to closely enforce contact or interference penalties after five yards:

    -Veteran receivers who get quickly into routes -- Marvin Harrison of the Colts and Isaac Bruce of the Rams for example -- should have monster years. The Patriots used a "Cover 4" against the Colts in the AFC Championship game that allowed them to have five defenders against the three-receiver sets on one side of the field. Harrison was double-covered in the slot and grabbed after having contact made in the first five yards.
    Harrison is quick into his routes and will get to the five-yard area faster than most. That makes him virtually unstoppable.

    -Maybe this is just judgmental, but I believe rookie receivers will have more impact in their first seasons. True, most first-round receivers are underclassmen who have trouble adjusting to NFL route-running and getting off the line of scrimmage in their rookie seasons. But these rookies should have more of a chance to get off the line of scrimmage without having a defender in their faces as long as teams play more zone and less man. Because these are big, powerful receivers who are faster than the cornerbacks covering them, they should be able to run their routes better and make more catches early.

    -Defenses will use more blitzing packages to put pressure on quarterbacks and force quicker throws. Face it, secondaries can't get away what they did, and very few teams have shutdown man-to-man coverage quarterbacks. Expect more zone blitzes. Sacks fell to 1,092 last year, lowest since 1994. Watch the sack numbers increase.

    -- John Clayton

    The impact of this new emphasis on unimpeded receivers will be huge. Go back to 1994 when the rule was put in. Passing yardage went up a total of 26 yards per game (from 401.2 to 427.2, second highest in the modern era). Average completions went from 11.6 to 11.7. Average attempt went from 5.8 yards to 6. Scoring went from 37.4 to 40.9 per game.

    Expect the same types of increases this season. More teams will have the ability to pass for 4,500 yards. Games will be higher scoring.

    The downside is that the first month of the season may be ugly because of the number of penalties that will have to be called to break the habits of physical cornerbacks. In 1994, the first year of the "chucking" revision, 117 illegal contact penalties were called. Flags were thrown so often in the first part of that season that officials started feeling sorry for defensive backs. With the gray area of the rules revision, less penalties were called in the second half of the season and only 53 and 50 were called the next two seasons.

    It's not out of the question for a record number of illegal contact penalties to be called given the history that more were called in 1994 than in 1995 and 1996 combined.

    The rest of the impact will be speculation. Offensive coaches tell you they expect more man-to-man coverage at the line of scrimmage. I don't know if I believe that. There aren't as many cornerback who have the ability to jam a receiver at the line and stay with him after five yards without the ability to grab him after five yards. Receivers are getting to be bigger and strong while the average cornerback hasn't significant grown or gotten that much faster.

    Advantage, receiver.

    Every few years, the NFL adjusts rules to open up offenses. This new emphasis on calling penalties for extra contact will be huge this season.

    John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

  • #2
    Re: Clayton: Cracking Down on Corners

    I read the same thing and am looking forward to seeing Bellachicken have to adjust his defense from getting toasted by the elite recievers, if they actually start calling this now. Love to see the Patsies defense drop to the middle of the pack or below, then we'll see what a difference the, "accidental contact", has made, to propell them to the lofty status they've been in. Watching Ty Law getting burnt on ESPN highlights on a regular basis will be a thing of beauty.

    Maineram

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: Clayton: Cracking Down on Corners

      Originally posted by maineram
      I read the same thing and am looking forward to seeing Bellachicken have to adjust his defense from getting toasted by the elite recievers, if they actually start calling this now. Love to see the Patsies defense drop to the middle of the pack or below, then we'll see what a difference the, "accidental contact", has made, to propell them to the lofty status they've been in. Watching Ty Law getting burnt on ESPN highlights on a regular basis will be a thing of beauty.

      Maineram
      You are correct, maine. But don't forget about the "Bristol bias", any Pats low-light will probably end up on the editing room floor. And more than likely replaced with a Berman segment on how the whiners are the greatest franchise in the history of football.
      The more things change, the more they stay the same.

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: Clayton: Cracking Down on Corners

        The new rule will bring speedy CB's to the forefront.....


        Watch out for Garrett........

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: Clayton: Cracking Down on Corners

          Originally posted by txramsfan
          The new rule will bring speedy CB's to the forefront.....


          Watch out for Garrett........
          One of the criticisms of our defense has been that the CBs are not physical enough. Now all of a sudden our burners are looking a lot better. Now, if we can just stop the run, hm...
          The more things change, the more they stay the same.

          Comment


          • #6
            Re: Clayton: Cracking Down on Corners

            The rule adjusment could be a double edged sword. Does a defense adjust to the new guidelines with smaller, faster, more agile corners at the risk of losing the ability to stop the run with a bigger, more physical secondary? Could be a tricky balance.

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: Clayton: Cracking Down on Corners

              If the secondary is stopping the run, we are in trouble anyway.

              Remember Neon Deion? Great corner....terrible tackler.

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Clayton: Cracking Down on Corners

                Good point, but run support could still be affected when the need arises.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: Clayton: Cracking Down on Corners

                  As far as run support from the secondary, I see that more of the responsibility of the safties rather than the corners. With guys like Aeneas, Arch, & Shivers, we've got some solid run-stopping safties.
                  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: Clayton: Cracking Down on Corners

                    Absolutely, safeties have a much bigger role in run support, but a lot of teams took advantage of their bigger, more physical corners to make some plays with regard to helping stop the run. In those instances, teams may or may not have that luxury depending on what if any adjustments they make with regard to the new crackdowns.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Re: Clayton: Cracking Down on Corners

                      Originally posted by r8rh8rmike
                      Does a defense adjust to the new guidelines with smaller, faster, more agile corners at the risk of losing the ability to stop the run with a bigger, more physical secondary?
                      If said defense can depend on their front seven to consistently make plays stopping the run, then yes. Of course the D-line and 'backers aren't going to make every play, but if they're making the majority, then I think it's an adjustment that will have to be made. The trend seems to be heading toward speed in linebacker units right now. If a defense can be built around speed both in the secondary and in their linebackers, I don't think run support is going to be a huge problem for them.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Re: Clayton: Cracking Down on Corners

                        Originally posted by NickSeiler
                        If said defense can depend on their front seven to consistently make plays stopping the run, then yes. Of course the D-line and 'backers aren't going to make every play, but if they're making the majority, then I think it's an adjustment that will have to be made. The trend seems to be heading toward speed in linebacker units right now. If a defense can be built around speed both in the secondary and in their linebackers, I don't think run support is going to be a huge problem for them.
                        Well, that is exactly how Martz & Lovie built this back 7, so I hope you're right.
                        The more things change, the more they stay the same.

                        Comment

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                        • RamWraith
                          You're about to witness NFL history this season.-FOXs Sportss
                          by RamWraith
                          Remember how Peyton Manning mangled the Chiefs' defense in last January's playoff game? Chew on this: That offensive deluge could be repeated on a weekly basis this fall against almost any team — and could even be generated by quarterbacks not named Manning. If you like your Sundays filled with gobs of passing yards and chunks of points, then you'll think you've died and gone to football heaven.

                          Prepare yourself for perhaps the greatest outpouring of throwing and scoring ever. Ravens coach Brian Billick already has warned his players to brace for the oncoming revolution. "It will have as much effect on the game as anything we've done in the past five to 10 years," he told them. For sure, we haven't seen this NFL since the mid-1990s, the last time the league said wait a Dan Marino, these defensive folks are pushing the rules too far and disrupting what is designed to be an offense-dominated sport.

                          The culprit — or hero, depending on your football preference — behind this change? Redskins cornerback Shawn Springs knows. "Thank you, Ty Law," he says with disgust. Because it was Law and his fellow Patriots maulers who beat up those delicate Colts receivers in last season's AFC title game, igniting the flames that led to this potentially high-octane result.

                          A review of the final Colts possession reveals at least six downfield penalties that should have been called on New England but weren't. Even Mike Holmgren's daughters, who are casual fans, thought somebody was naughty. After witnessing how rudely the Patriots treated Manning's favorite targets, they asked, "Can they do that?"

                          The answer from the NFL is no, they can't. The rulebook outlaws chucking after 5 yards, the grabbing of uniforms downfield and the hooking and redirecting of receivers in the secondary. But dastardly defensive coaches have been pushing the rules for the last half-decade, teaching their players to grab a little material here, chuck and push beyond 5 yards there, maybe hook an opponent just slightly if he has you beaten by a step. Some of this hasn't been subtle. And much of it has not been penalized.

                          The Dolphins are even more prolific practitioners of rules manhandling than the Patriots; hardly anyone within the league who doesn't work in South Florida disagrees with Holmgren's assessment that "the last few years you could call holding on Miami's defensive backs almost every play."

                          Receivers have become players within a real-life pinball machine, bounced around in the secondary instead of running free, which is what they are supposed to be doing thanks to the league's decision in the late 1970s to outlaw downfield chucks. Last winter, the NFL's competition committee reviewed passing and total yardage statistics from the past 14 years and didn't like the numbers. In 2003, the league produced 400.9 passing yards per game, down almost 24 from the previous...
                          -08-31-2004, 03:10 PM
                        • RamWraith
                          Rams hope refs get strict on illegal contact
                          by RamWraith
                          By Jim Thomas
                          Of the Post-Dispatch
                          11/04/2004
                          During a media presentation three months ago in Macomb, Ill., referee Bernie Kukar referred to the NFL's new point of emphasis on illegal contact as the Mike Martz Rule.

                          It was Martz, after all, who pressed for a stricter interpretation of the league rule on illegal contact last offseason.

                          But it could just as easily be called the Patriots Rule. Because without New England's ultra-aggressive play in pass coverage, officials wouldn't be looking more closely at contact between wide receiver and defender more than five yards downfield.

                          Such contact, unless deemed incidental, is supposed to result in a five-yard penalty and an automatic first down. By making illegal contact a point of emphasis last March, the league wasn't changing the rule. It was just saying the rule would be more strictly enforced.

                          At the midway point of the NFL season, has that really been the case?

                          By the numbers - a qualified "yes."

                          Defensive holding calls are up slightly, with 96 such penalties called eight weeks into this season, compared with 90 such penalties at a similar juncture in 2003.

                          Illegal contact calls are up markedly, with 72 such penalties so far this season compared to 32 after eight weeks of the 2003 season. That's more than double the number of illegal contact penalties, but it still means that only nine such penalties are being called - each week - throughout the NFL.

                          And some Rams will tell you that in recent weeks, officials have started to look the other way at illegal contact, keeping their flags in their pockets. Rams wide receiver Isaac Bruce, for one, tactfully suggests that NFL officiating crews take a brief refresher course on the rule and how it's supposed to be enforced.

                          "They're calling it, but I think they need to have another meeting on it," Bruce said. "Not too long of a meeting, they just need to continue to remind them."

                          Then, hinting strongly at a lack of consistency in calling illegal contact, Bruce added: "They're not going to let the offense get by with the (illegal) motion rule. They're real consistent on calling that. So they need probably another two-minute meeting (on illegal contact)."

                          In Game 5 against Seattle, Bruce was clearly shoved out of bounds in the back of the end zone by a Seahawks defender, but there was no flag, even though an official was very close to the play.

                          "He was standing there, and he should've seen it," Bruce said. "He didn't throw the flag."

                          With Bruce pushed out of the play, quarterback Marc Bulger threw a desperation pass to tight end Brandon Manumaleuna, whose miraculous touchdown catch jump-started the Rams' fourth-quarter comeback in a 33-27 overtime victory.

                          In...
                          -11-05-2004, 04:21 PM
                        • RamDez
                          Touchy rule
                          by RamDez
                          Touchy rule

                          Crackdown on defenses offers to give receivers a lift
                          Monday, August 09, 2004
                          Tony Grossi Plain Dealer Reporter
                          Nothing sends ripples of angst throughout the NFL quicker than a drop in offense.

                          "Everyone likes to see the ball flung around and point totals high," Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher said.

                          He was speaking of fans as well as high-placed executives in the NFL.

                          Show a group of NFL officials a downward trend in points or yards and brace for a rules change. Or in this season's case, a "point of emphasis."

                          In March, league officials examined a 9.2 percent drop in passing yards - from 441.6 a game in 1995 to 400.9 last season. The latter total was the smallest in 11 years.

                          Coming on the heels of New England's mugging of Indianapolis receivers in the AFC Championship Game, the league declared a crackdown on illegal contact and defensive holding.

                          Game officials are touring NFL training camps this summer to emphasize to coaches and players that the rules will be strictly enforced. That means no more pulling, grabbing, chucking, knocking - anything to bump a receiver off his route - 5 yards beyond the line of scrim- mage.

                          "It's going to be a huge topic [this summer]," said Mike Pereira, NFL director of officiating.

                          "We want the offensive receivers to be able to run an unrestricted route beyond 5 yards, and we don't want him hooked or grabbed when he tries to get off the line of scrimmage."

                          Tweaking rules in the NFL is a rite of spring. No professional sports league spends more time analyzing and refining its game than the NFL. The decline in passing yards became the statistical reference for the latest crackdown.

                          But the lightning rod surely was the AFC Championship Game in January.

                          Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning rode into the game following two consecutive passing performances in the playoffs that were nearly perfect statistically. New England promptly forced four interceptions in a 24-14 drubbing that canceled the coronation of Manning as the league's passing king.

                          The reason for Manning's ineffectiveness was a Patriots' defense that physically mauled his receivers - and got away with it.

                          "You watched it on television and you thought, 'Gee,' " said Seattle coach Mike Holmgren. "My daughters said, 'Dad, can they do that?' Well, yeah, they did."

                          Two plays near the end of the game stood out. Manning was within a touchdown of tying the score at the two-minute warning. On consecutive plays, Manning's passes for tight end Marcus Pollard fell incomplete after New England linebacker Roman Phifer impeded Pollard beyond the 5-yard zone.

                          After the game, Pollard made a comment that resonated in the ears of league rule-makers.
                          ...
                          -08-09-2004, 03:09 PM
                        • RamDez
                          NFL emphasizes its intent to enforce illegal contact rule
                          by RamDez
                          NFL emphasizes its intent to enforce illegal contact rule
                          By Jim Thomas

                          Of the Post-Dispatch
                          08/07/2004




                          MACOMB, Ill. - In his first go-around on the NFL's competition committee, Rams coach Mike Martz practically made illegal contact on pass plays a crusade during the offseason.

                          Those efforts bore fruit when the NFL made illegal contact a "point of emphasis" for game officials at the league meetings last March. And this weekend at Western Illinois University, visiting game officials have started the "emphasizing."

                          Referee Bernie Kukar, back judge Steve Freeman, side judge Tom Hill and head linesman Phil McKinnely arrived in Macomb on Thursday to work the joint practices and scrimmage between the Rams and the Chicago Bears.

                          Among the points they are making to defensive players and coaches is that the illegal contact rule on pass defense will be more strictly enforced this year.

                          "Points of emphasis simply are things that we want to pay a little closer attention to," said Kukar, who worked the Rams-New England Super Bowl following the 2001 season. "They're not changes in the rule - the rule has always been there."

                          In the case of illegal contact, the league has decided - with much prodding from Martz - that its officials have been giving too much leeway to the defense. Too much leeway in terms of allowing contact more than 5 yards downfield. And too much leeway in determining what was - and what was not - incidental contact by defenders.

                          "From an officiating standpoint, when you're 25 yards downfield and you're looking at this play happening ... it's pretty hard to determine where 5 yards are," Kukar said.

                          That's one of the reasons, Kukar said, that game officials became more flexible over the years when trying to determine whether contact occurred 5 yards down field. Or 5 1/2. Or 6 yards.

                          But not anymore.

                          "All we're saying is pay more attention to that stuff," Kukar said. "Five yards is 5 yards, and any contact after 5 yards should be called."

                          Also, there will be less flexibility in terms of incidental contact. Defensive players simply can't knock wide receivers off routes more than 5 yards down the field.

                          Along those lines, Kukar said any pulling of a receiver's jersey by a defender now will be regarded as illegal contact. (Or holding.) No longer will game officials be asked to determine whether the jersey-grabbing actually restricted a receiver from running his route.

                          There will be less gray area. At least that's the theory. But in the real world - on game day - will the illegal contact rule actually be more strictly enforced this season?

                          "It's supposed to be," Martz said Friday. "So I would imagine it would be."
                          ...
                          -08-07-2004, 12:56 PM
                        • eldfan
                          Rams team report
                          by eldfan
                          USA TODAY 09/14/2010

                          As much as there was optimism after the Rams took the Cardinals to the wire before losing 17-13 Sunday, it's interesting to wonder what would have happened had they not acquired wide receiver Mark Clayton six days before the game.
                          Clayton became available when Baltimore signed T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and they sent Clayton and a seventh-round draft pick to the Rams for a sixth-round pick.

                          With just three days of practice, Clayton caught 10 passes for 119 yards. One player that wasn't surprised was center Jason Brown, who played with Clayton when both were with the Ravens.

                          Brown said Clayton is "very smart and very disciplined" and as for what he did in practice last week, Brown added, "We were making compliments and commenting on that all week long, how he came in and didn't have a single mental error at practice. Never lined up wrong, never ran a wrong route. He was on top of it since Day One."

                          Clayton spent time after practice working with quarterback Sam Bradford, and each evening was studying the playbook for at least two hours.

                          Said Clayton, "I was able to just sit down and go over it - play, play, play, play. The Lord gave me a photographic memory. I can go in and just look at some pictures and remember it and ... just process it in my mind real quick."

                          Of connecting with Clayton so often, Bradford said, "It's definitely impressive. But we saw it all week. The first day he was here, he knew exactly what he was doing."

                          Clayton had seen his production diminish in Baltimore, so he is grateful for the new opportunity with the Rams.

                          "You got to have the ball thrown your way to catch them," he said. "The thing is, I've learned perseverance, being a consummate pro, working, just always, no matter what, to get open. And when the ball comes, take advantage of it. If it doesn't, get open again."

                          Now, he wants to contribute, help the younger receivers and send the message that this team isn't far away from being better.

                          He said, "I believe in this team. This is a really good team, and we wanted the win bad, and it hurt. We fought hard. ... I want to do my best and leave everything on the field. I just want to try to help this team win games."

                          NOTES, QUOTES

                          —The Rams forced four turnovers and had just four penalties while Arizona had 10 penalties. But they weren't able to turn any of the turnovers into immediate points. After one, a field-goal attempt was blocked.

                          The toughest was when defensive tackle Clifton Ryan picked up a fumble at the Cardinals' 23 -yard line with the Rams leading 13-10 in the third quarter. Rumbling toward the goal line, wide receiver Steve Breaston stripped Ryan from behind inside the 5-yard line.

                          Arizona recovered in the end zone...
                          -09-14-2010, 10:35 PM
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