Friday, December 31, 2010

Getting some interference

"So," I said to myself, "what can I write about today?" I considered taking the night off, being that I've practically posted daily articles for the last 13 months or so. But then I sat down, watched another segment of the NFL Networks "Playbook" show (a gold mine for the so-called 'all 22' film) and suddenly I was struck by a moment of inspiration. Allow me to explain. Many weeks ago I picked on the Colts because they were without doubt the most heinous criminals for committing "offensive pass interference". I say 'were' because I'm now fairly sure that the Patriots have not only surpassed them in this regard, but absolutely whopped their butts. The question however came up in the comments as to what exactly constitutes "offensive pass interference"? Well, as I'm led to believe it, the rule states that on a passing play, offensive players may not block a defensive player beyond the line of scrimmage until the intended receiver has caught the ball. And that's where my moment of inspiration came in. In the segment about the coming Week 17 clash between the Raiders and the Chiefs, Joe Theismann was showing some tape to highlight the play of Chiefs rookie tight end Tony Moeaki. What he did was to inadvertently drop into my lap a perfect example of what offensive pass interference or "pick" plays look like. The play in question superficially resembles a play that is popular in the college game, often referred to as a "mesh" play. In the images we're going to look at, the two middle receivers who crossover and "mesh" are doing so a little further down the field than the true college play, but the principle is very similar. At this juncture I should point out as usual that these images are screen captures from the NFL Networks "Playbook" show and that these images have not been edited in any way by myself. All graphics, symbols and any other stuff in the image was made and added to the film by the networks computer wizards. The original video can be found here. Right. We'll start with our first image (as is customary) which, thanks to the Playbook crew and my impeccable sense of timing with the Print Screen button, shows roughly how the two inside routes will crossover. The player in the lower circle is Tony Moeaki. The design of this little combo is simple; crossover in midfield, with the receiver who goes slightly deeper "picking" or "rubbing" the trail defender off of his team mate. You can already see in the image below that the path of the receiver going over the top will lead him to collide with the defender covering Moeaki. We shall call this receiver "the pick man" (how very inventive Chris):
The next image is important but you're going to have look closely. Other than catching "the Pick Man" in a still shot that makes him look like he's half way through doing a rain dance, we don't appear to have gained a lot from this shot. But we have, trust me. What you need to look at is "Pick Man's" right foot which is, for all intents and purposes, on the 31 yard line. His left foot is in the air. It should be pointed out that he has already made his break to run across the field.
Now compare and contrast the image above with the image below. We can see clearly that "Pick man" has stepped with his left foot all the way out to the 33 yard line. He basically took a leap two yards to his left. But why do this in the middle of your route? It makes no sense. You're sacrificing all that speed and separation you built up, just to take a step to the left? Why?
The answer can be found in our last image. Look how much space has been opened up for Moeaki to make the clean catch. (For those that are wondering, the red glowing blob is the ball, and not a radioactive hotdog from the Broncos concession stands). The separation was a result of the deeper receiver "picking" or "rubbing" the defender off of Moeaki.
Hopefully now when you watch the video you'll see what I mean. In fact, it's a very blatant side step designed to manufacture an open receiver. Now call me old fashioned, but I like to see people win fairly. I like to know that the game I'm watching is a contest between two teams that are giving it their all and who know the rules and will abide by them in the interest of a good, fair game. Instead what I'm seeing increasingly is a flexing of the rules, almost always favouring the offense. Now as I've said before, if the league doesn't mind this kind of offensive pass interference and wants this kind of thing to be legal then that's fine. But make it legal, in writing, in the rule book. But as things stand, this is just as illegal as a defensive back knocking over a receiver just as he's about to catch a pass 10 yards down field, before the ball even reaches him. Add this kind of thing (which it appears almost all teams are doing and getting away with now) to the new emphasis on defenseless receivers and then all the silly penalties for "roughing the passer" every time one gets tapped even slightly on the head, and what we have is an outright and irrefutable case that the NFL is legislating in favour of (or in this case failing to legislate against) the offenses of the league. The reasons might be many, but just taking a wild guess in the dark I would say it has a lot to do with making the game "more exciting", providing you enjoy watching basketball played on grass (or artificial turf), which I imagine the league is hoping will bump audiences and thus revenues. Call me cynical, because basically I am, but this to me is getting beyond a joke. As I see it, the fairness is being sapped from a game I love watching in favour of artificial offense and a desire for higher scoring games. Which sucks. P.S. Keep watching the 'Playbook' video past this incident, keeping an eye out for the segment where Brian Baldinger brings up the Chiefs defensive back field. It highlights rookies Eric Berry, Kendrick Lewis and Javier Arenas. Eric Berry was no surprise this season but the other two -- especially Lewis -- have been to most people, as Baldinger points out. I'd now just like to take this opportunity then to point you in the direction of my rookie watch list, where all 3 of those players have been sitting since before week 1. It's nice being right. Sometimes.


Teoita said...

The way i see it is, the NFL (and NCAA) choose to enforce some rules in harder ways than others. The plays you talk about have been run for almost three decades now: look at BYU's/West Coast "shallow" concept
or Mouse Davis' base play, Go:
where "pick for y" is clearly written. Those plays are from playbooks that are over 25 years old, which leads me to the conclusion: this kind of penalty has never been enforced in recent memory.
So yes, you are right, but if no league has done anything about it for decades, they sure as hell won't start now that, as you point out, sneezing next to a qb brings 15 yards and 5 grand penalties.

Chris said...

Exactly. This is not a rule that's going to get enforced anytime soon.

And that concerns me. in order to have a rulebook or any set of rules that people trust and respect, you have to enforce the whole thing.

You can't pick and choose as the league is doing as to which rules you want to enforce.

Guys like James Harrison I think have a case to go back to the league and say "hey, we want our money back. You can't fine us for breaking this rule if you're not going to bother enforcing that rule".

It's a double standard, soemthing we've come to expect from the NFL these days.