Monday, March 19, 2007

Mike Nolan you genius!

It's rare that some cockamamy (I spelled that right on the first shot) scheme you and your buddies draw on some napkins over some rapidly warming Miller Lites at Jack Russell's on a Saturday afternoon is later proposed by an NFL head coach as a significant rule change, but that's exactly what happened today. reported that 49ers Head Coach Mike Nolan was on TV talking about how NFL should change the pass interference rule. Nolan would like to make the call more subjective and give the refs the option of calling a 15 yard penalty (still significant) or a spot foul. I couldn't agree more. In fact, my friends and I came up with a similar plan last Summer (the plan my friends and I proposed in the Summer of '06 was a little different. We agreed on 10yds for less interference though some thought 5yds was ok or even simply a replay of down was sufficient). The problem with the rule as presently constructed is that every pass interference call is a spot foul and results in an automatic first down. This gives tremendous incentive for the WR to initiate contact or take a dive on plays downfield where he knows he won't be able to get to a pass. It also overpenalizes the defender for contact often de minimis in nature. If a DB turns his head too late and ends up faceguarding a WR, he's penalized as severely as if he pulled the guy down by the jersey or shoved him out of bounds before the ball got there. Now don't get me wrong, as long as faceguarding is going to remain an illegal play, you need to penalize it, but shouldn't intent matter? The NFL already makes this distinction with some penalties. There's a distinction in face mask penalties (5yds vs. 15yds) as well as running into the kicker vs. roughing the kicker. The distinction for both centers around how reckless the player was in committing those fouls. With Pass Interference, the distinction could be similar. The "hustle plays" that result in contact should not be penalized as severely as those plays where there is reckless conduct. Nolan makes the analogy stretch that the current penalty structure is akin to giving a speeder the death penalty. Maybe just a touch dramatic, eh Mikey? The point is a good one though. Defending a deep pass is a huge risk/reward situation and the recklessness with which that play is defended is the standard by which the player should be punished. The DB is on the hot seat and you certainly don't want to encourage any type of behavior that will result in a player getting away with illegal contact downfield. You also don't want to force the ref to decide whether the contact is deserved of what amounts to a 50yd penalty or a no call. There needs to be a middle ground. Reducing the penalty for lesser infractions (turning too late, hand checking, running into the guy while you're looking at the underthrown ball, etc.) will lead to more competitive play and more consistent defensive play without requiring the ref to decide whether or not to turn a hand slap 45 yards down the field into a playoff changing event. It's just absurd. There are times late in big games where a ball goes down field and the ref sees contact but doesn't want to change the course of the entire game so he doesn't make a call he would have 20 minutes ago. That may be what the NFL wants, but it doesn't make for consistent play and a lack of consistency in penalty calling is disasterous for the league in this era of HDTV, replay and TiVo. Kudos to you Mike Nolan. Anytime you agree with me and my drunk friends, you are clearly ahead of the curve.

(While the story I read was reported by's Len Pasquarelli, the original comments by Nolan stem from an article with The Sacramento Bee's Matthew Barrows, who deserved the same credit in's article as he's belatedly getting here.)


Adept said...

Pass interference as a spot foul has always been a ridiculous penalty and I agree that it needs to be changed, my vote would be for a 10 yard penalty -- 15 yarders are for personal fouls not incidental play.

One correction to your article, however, face guarding has been legal in the NFL for a number of years now. Most people still think it's illegal -- but it isn't.

Claude Balls said...

One quibble. ESPN did not break this story. Matt Barrows at the Sacramento Bee did. His report is here:

ESPN and Len Pasquarelli, as they are wont to do, picked up Barrows' story and passed it off as their own.

randjamal said...

As adept said, face gaurding is not illegal and should not be penalized. Other than that misstep, well done. Couldn't agree more.