Zebra Report 2009: A (Re)Introduction
Things are going to be different this year, though.
As long-time readers know, I'm a big accountability guy and constantly reflect on ways to better myself. In terms of writing this column, I couldn't get my head around the fact that I was saying "that was a bad call" about guys who are about a thousand times more qualified to make that judgment than myself. Sure, I have opinions. Everyone does. I also mostly defended the officials during last season, but the few times I didn't, it left a sour taste in my mouth. They are better than me, thus, who am I to say they did wrong?
Also, interactivity is good. I love when ordinary fans dispute the calls. The problem, most of the time, is that the fans don't know the exact rules. Well, I have access to the NFL rulebook.
Thus, what we'll do this year is post controversial plays (feel free to email me certain plays to include in the next report ... keep your eyes open this weekend) and I will post the exact rule directly from the rulebook. I'll then try to explain the rule in layman's terms and leave it up to you on whether or not the officials made the correct call in your mind.
The purpose here is to educate the masses as to the exact rules, not take the officials to task. I firmly believe the NFL officials do an exceptional job (I defended this stance in my last post on the subject) and get a bad rap in the public eye from people who don't know what it's like to be on the field.
Just to get us in the mindset for the regular season, here are a few examples of what we'll be doing.
1. Many fans complained that there was a block in the back missed by the officials during James Harrison's touchdown in the Super Bowl. Start watching at about the 25-second mark on this video:
According to rule 12-1-4b (emphasis mine), "an offensive blocker cannot: charge or fall into the back of an opponent above the waist, or use his hands or arms to push an opponent from behind in a manner that affects his movement, except in close-line play (the guideline for officials to use for illegal use of hands in the back above the waist is: if either hand is on the back, it is a foul. If both hands are on the opponent's side, it is not a foul)."
Thus, in this play, you are deciding if the blocker had both hands on the side of the Cardinals player, or if one or both hands were on the back. The shoulder isn't the back, but completely on the back of the shoulder would technically be in the back.
Also, this might be relevant in any potential block in the back: You can't draw a call. Meaning if someone is about to block you in the front, you can't just quickly turn your back and then take the hit. If that happens, it's a no-call. I'm not saying that necessarily happened here, but it always needs to be considered.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments section, and remember, try to leave bias aside and judge strictly on the rule.
2. Hypothetically speaking, is it a penalty for:
- A defensive player to grab the ball-carrier inside the collar of his shoulder pads, pull him back (without taking him down) and then punch the ball out, causing a fumble?
- A defensive player to grab the ball-carrier inside the collar of his shoulder pads and immediately pull him to the ground in the middle of the line immediately after the runner received a hand-off?
- A defensive player to grab the ball-carrier inside the collar of his shoulder pads, pull him back, and then use both arms to wrap around the runner's waist and tackle him?
- A defensive player to grab a quarterback inside the collar of his shoulder pads and pull him straight down -- while still inside the passing pocket?
How many people said none of the four are penalties? If so, you get a gold star for today.
The famed (notorious, among officials) "horse collar rule" (12-2-1d) reads (emphasis mine): "All players are prohibited from grabbing inside the collar of the back of the shoulder pads or jersey, or the inside collar of the side of the shoulder pads or jersey, and immediately pulling down the runner. This does not apply to a runner who is in the tackle box or to a quarterback who is in the pocket."
Just to give you an idea of how extensive the rulebook is, that rule is on page 80 of 136.
Hopefully you learned something this week -- and the games haven't even started yet. Again, keep your eyes open for possible rules interpretations during the Week 1 games. There is sure to be booing all weekend. That's part of the job. But you want to be one of the enlightened fans, no?
We'll see you next week. Feel free to post your thoughts on either of the examples or ask questions about the rules.
Got a rules-related question? Whether it's elementary, high school or NFL, email TZR and he'll see what he can do.