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    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.

    "It's not New England's fault. It's another being's fault," Pollard said, an indirect reference to the game officials. "Those guys did what they had to do. They didn't get called for it. So keep doing it. Hats off to them."

    Colts President Bill Polian repeatedly vented his anger during the game. Several times he banged his fist on a table in the press box. At least one time he shouted, "Throw the flag!"

    After the season, Polian sat on the league competition committee that met several times to rectify what had become lax enforcement of the illegal contact and holding rules.

    "You can't deny that it took place in the championship game," Polian said in March. "You've got guys grabbing shirts and pulling guys down. But that's not the reason for the rules [clarification]. As I said in the committee meeting, that took it to its nadir, to its zenith."

    During analysis of the matter in the off-season, one coach stood out as instrumental in the decline of passing yards - Bill Belichick.

    "The Super Bowl we won [with Green Bay after the 1996 season], we played New England and Bill was the coordinator," Holmgren said. "Same game. Same game."

    In the 2001 season, Belichick was the Patriots' head coach, and his defensive tactics helped orchestrate an epic upset over the pass-happy St. Louis Rams.

    "There was a lot of that going on in that game," Rams coach Mike Martz said. "And after that game, people looked at that game and said that they didn't realize this was permitted. And it's escalated."

    Pereira agreed that NFL coaches copy the tactics of the season's champion, but he stopped short of pinning the blame on Belichick.

    "I don't think any coach is any different than Belichick," he said. "They try to find out how opponents play and how officials officiate. They'll always play the game as they're allowed to play it."

    Pereira blames the league officiating department for letting defensive players get away with more than rules allow.

    "Complacency by our department probably equated to the declining number of fouls and subsequently to the declining pass yardage," he said.

    Coaches are divided on the new crackdown. Offensive-minded coaches, like Holmgren and Martz, applaud it. Defensive-minded coaches believe it's just another attempt by the league to promote offense.

    "The thing that makes me nervous is whenever they want to emphasize rules like this, they're talking about offense and giving the chance to score more points," said Miami coach Dave Wannstedt, whose defense favors an aggressive, physical style.

    Browns coach Butch Davis said, "Obviously, they're trying to continue to get more offense in the game, to get the receivers more vertical releases up the field."

    The result of the crackdown will be more penalty flags thrown - especially in preseason as coaches and players learn to adapt.

    "To me, the game's got too many delays as it is," said Detroit coach Steve Mariucci. "It's got too many stoppages. It's got five TV timeouts every quarter. It's got penalty stops. It's got replay stops. We don't need more penalties, more ways to stop a game. That's where it's headed."

    The last time the NFL conducted a similar crackdown was in 1994. Illegal contact penalties increased from 40 in 1990 to 117 in 1994.

    "Whether or not it creates more fouls is not a concern," Pereira said. "We're just concerned that the game is played the way it's supposed to be, where receivers get to run their routes unobstructed beyond five yards."

    The crackdown only makes the job of cornerbacks more difficult.

    "I don't like how the rules are set up," Browns cornerback Daylon McCutcheon said. "I think it's an unfair advantage for the offense, but there's no point in me or other DBs complaining because we're not going to get it changed."

    To reach this Plain

    Keeping the Rams Nation Talking

  • #2
    Re: Touchy rule

    Maybe we'll get a chance to see if they are going to start cracking down from the get go tonight on MNF. It should be interesting.


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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, 04:10 PM
    • RamWraith
      Rams hope refs get strict on illegal contact
      by RamWraith
      By Jim Thomas
      Of the Post-Dispatch
      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.

      -11-05-2004, 05:21 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

      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, 01:56 PM
    • RamWraith
      The cheaters (Pats) are crying about Martz and company
      by RamWraith
      Coaches in full bunker mentality: But facts back conspiracy theory
      By Michael Felger/ Patriots Insider
      Wednesday, September 8, 2004

      FOXBORO - The games are about to begin and the filters are on.

      That means Bill Belichick isn't about to discuss his true feelings about the NFL's new emphasis on illegal contact in the secondary. That means the coaches that brought the emphasis to the league's attention - namely St. Louis' Mike Martz and Indianapolis' Tony Dungy - aren't about to stand and be counted. That means Colts general manager Bill Polian isn't about to express his thoughts regarding the officiating in last season's AFC Championship Game.

      Dungy, as he did during a conference call, will point out he is no longer a member of the competition committee that formally ratified the emphasis - which, to put it kindly, is being obtuse. The NFL lists Dungy as the chairman of the coaches' subcommittee, although Dungy said his tenure has expired. Dungy will also fail to point out that Polian is a longstanding member of the competition committee on the executive level.

      To get everyone's true feelings, you need to go back in time. Polian, for instance, was so incensed by the officiating in the Pats' 24-14 title game win that he sent 20 plays to the league office for review. Three days later, he lashed out during an online chat. The following quote has certainly found its way into the Pats' locker room.

      ``There were seven total penalties called,'' Polian said. ``They were all penalties that occurred before the ball was snapped. . . . Those officials, in the second-most important game of the year, did not call one foul that occurred during the course of play. In the average game, there are 15.75 penalties. I will say this: (Tight end) Marcus Pollard was interfered with on third down on the last drive. He was interfered with on fourth down. Those are the facts. We did not get any memo saying they were throwing away the rule book. If that was the case, both teams should have been notified.''

      As a member of the competition committee, there's no disputing Polian was involved in pushing the new emphasis through the league. And there's also no disputing that Belichick fought against it during the owners' meetings in Palm Beach in March. In fact, Belichick blasted the new directive.

      One of Belichick's biggest problems was that the on-field officials in charge of making the call are typically lined up 25-30 yards off the line of scrimmage and therefore won't be able to accurately gauge whether contact comes at 5 yards (legal) or 6 yards (illegal).

      ``I don't really understand what we're trying to do,'' Belichick said during a coaches breakfast. ``We sat in there and watched all the film. All the coaches were in there. When you put the films on and they say, `Here's a violation,' OK, clearly...
      -09-08-2004, 06:04 PM
    • Nick
      Clayton: Cracking Down on Corners
      by Nick
      Illegal Contact Enforcement Could Have Huge Impact
      By John Clayton

      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...
      -07-23-2004, 12:49 AM