Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

15 Dec 2012

Officiating: Disconcerting Signals

Cincinnati Bengals 28 at Philadelphia Eagles 13
Fourth-and-3, Cincinnati at PHI 26, 13:30 of Q4

(Field Goal formation) PENALTY on PHI, Unsportsmanlike Conduct, 13 yards, enforced at PHI 26 - No Play. Defense simulated the snap count.

Simulating the snap count is an odd penalty. The defense is given free rein to scream most anything they want pre-snap. They're given leave to make subtle or even overt movements prior to the snap. They're even allowed to jump into the neutral zone, so long as the offensive line does not react and the ball is not snapped before the defender jumps back.

What other strange conduct could a defense engage in to draw an unsportsmanlike penalty, when defenders are already given so much leeway with pre-snap vocalizations and maneuvering? Let's see what the rulebook says:

12-3-1: There shall be no unsportsmanlike conduct. This applies to any act which is contrary to the generally understood principles of sportsmanship. Such acts specifically include, among others:

(i) Using acts or words by the defensive team that are designed to disconcert an offensive team at the snap.

That isn't particularly helpful. What exactly did the Eagles' defense do? One of the players called out a signal "similar to the offense's cadence." Unfortunately, the NFL Network didn't have audio, and the only thing that can be made out is some player screaming. Trying to mask the snap count is possibly disconcerting, but the referee specifically said the penalty was for a signal similar to the offense's cadence. The first thought on a weird penalty such as this (especially one that has a long conference) is that the call was changed from the original flag, but the only obvious penalties in this situation are false start and offside, since the play was whistled dead pre-snap. The coach's film seems to back this up, as the line judge throws his flag and runs to the referee as he would to report a penalty.

That makes this call even stranger; a line infraction is far more safe and easy a call than an unsportsmanlike, and the yardage penalized to the defense far less severe. A quick perusal of our penalty database reveals no other penalties in the past three years for a defense simulating the snap count, but it has happened before. The other strange thing about this call is that it was a special teams play, where the snap count would be different to the offense's cadence, facing a field goal defense that had only seen a few snaps in the game.

However, considering there was a long officials' conference and two easier penalties to call, so it seems very likely that one of the officials (likely the umpire) did actually hear a defender mimicking or interrupting the snap count. The referee wouldn't go with a strange penalty like that unless his guy was absolutely certain, especially when it is one of the most rare penalties in the game. It's a shame that Clete Blakeman didn't accidentally leave his mic on during the conference.

Posted by: Mike Kurtz on 15 Dec 2012

15 comments, Last at 02 Jan 2013, 2:18pm by Dean

Comments

1
by CG43 :: Sat, 12/15/2012 - 7:35pm

The Bucs were flagged for this earlier in the year against the Saints. And I believe earlier this season the NFL sent out some memo or something telling teams that they're going to start enforcing it more. I like the enforcement of this rule. I think it does a good job counterbalancing the new "No QB Head-bobs" decree.

2
by Anonymouse (not verified) :: Sat, 12/15/2012 - 11:02pm

This touches up on the only penalties ive seen this year that i feel completely clueless with. In the first Chargers vs Broncos game, phillip rivers was flagged twice for false start (for barely flinching his head forward). Peyton Manning throughout every snap, has his whole line moving, his hands are constantly moving, his whole body does a step forward move before the ball is hiked (every snap) and he is yet to be called for a false start.

It was so ludicrous that I was screaming "THE BRONCOS ARE HAVING A DANCE PARTY ON THE LINE!" nonstop for the whole second half. Someone please touch up on how these rules make any sense at all.

3
by JohnD (not verified) :: Sun, 12/16/2012 - 1:09am

Not certain, but I believe that it makes a difference whether the quarterback has placed his hands under center. Once he does, he's much more restricted in what he can do.

Memory is fuzzy, but as I recall one year he placed his hands under center, then walked down the line like he was changing the play, while Edgerrin James took a direct snap. That play was called back for a false start penalty; had he not placed his hands under center, he would have been fine.

So far as I know, that was the only time the Colts tried a ploy like that with Manning.

5
by Hummingbird Cyborg :: Sun, 12/16/2012 - 10:44am

I could have sworn that at least once, Rivers was in shotgun.

To me, I think that the difference is not if the QB moves around, but if he specifically does a headbob while he's doing his cadence.

6
by CG43 :: Sun, 12/16/2012 - 10:57am

Eli has gotten flagged for the head-bob out of the shotgun a couple times as well. From what I've seen so far I think it's been called more out of the gun than under center. You can fake with your hands and head out of the shotgun, as opposed to just the head under center. The rule makes sense to me, but that has to be a hard habit to break.

8
by Anonymouse (not verified) :: Sun, 12/16/2012 - 4:22pm

thats what i was looking for. I wasnt aware that it started once the qb placed his hands under center. I was more describing how blatantly the broncos were moving pre snap, and that there had to be a time that made it so that they were no longer able to move. Thank you

12
by Bobman :: Mon, 12/17/2012 - 3:08pm

That penalty sounds very familiar and I think everybody but the refs was surprised by it. (Never stopped me from using it in 1st/2nd grade flag football though... kids love trick plays.)

13
by PatsFan :: Mon, 12/17/2012 - 4:01pm

It should be familiar. It was called against the Colts in either the 2003 AFCCG or 2004 Divisional against NE. Boy, did the Colts radio announcers whine about it.

15
by Dean :: Wed, 01/02/2013 - 2:18pm

The rules may be different, but we had that play in our playbook in high school. The QB was specifically coached to put his hands on his thigh pads instead of under the center's butt. If he screwed up and put his hands under, he'd yell "red!" and that was the signal to audible to a handoff with the back going through the same hole. Coach would make sure to tell the ref during pregame to make sure the ref knew the rules, too.

4
by Dennis :: Sun, 12/16/2012 - 8:44am

Can someone who has watched Army play explain why what they do isn't a false start? They line up, then the linemen all break their stances and go down to one knee and look to the sideline for a play call, then gol back into their stances. I don't understand why that isn't a false start.

7
by Lance :: Sun, 12/16/2012 - 2:23pm

I can't speak for what Army does, nor for NCAA rules, but this would be perfectly legal in the NFL:

Section 4 Action at or Before the Snap
Article 1: Ball Ready for Play. After the neutral zone has been established (ball is made or declared ready for play), an
offensive player may not make a false start, a defensive player may not encroach (initiate contact with a member of the
offensive team) or commit a neutral zone infraction, and no player of either team may be offside when the ball is put in
play.
Article 2: False Start. It is a False Start if the ball has been placed ready for play, and, prior to the snap, an offensive player who has assumed a set position charges or moves in such a way as to simulate the start of a play, or if an offensive player who is in motion makes a sudden movement toward the line of scrimmage. Any quick abrupt movement by a single offensive player, or by several offensive players in unison, which simulates the start of the snap, is a false start.
Exceptions:
(a) This does not apply to an offensive player under the center who turns his head or shoulders, unless the movement is
an obvious attempt to draw an opponent offside.
Note: See 4-6-5-d, page 22, for actions by a defensive player who attempts to cause an offensive player to commit a false start.
Item 1: Interior Lineman. It is a False Start if an interior lineman (tackle to tackle) takes or simulates a three-point stance,
and then changes his position or moves the hand that is on the ground.
Item 2: Change of Stance. An interior lineman who is in a two-point stance is permitted to reset in a three-point stance or
change his position, provided that he resets prior to the snap. ...

So as long as they don't get in a full 3-point stance, they can do something like turn to the sideline for a moment.

9
by Michael LaRocca (not verified) :: Sun, 12/16/2012 - 11:56pm

In my new novel they recite Andrew Dice Clay's nursery rhymes and sing Chinese opera, but this is obviously a work of fiction.

10
by PatsFan :: Mon, 12/17/2012 - 11:37am

Can we have an update to this post discussing the whole Ed Hochuli debacle in NE-SF?

11
by RickD :: Mon, 12/17/2012 - 11:56am

Which one?

14
by LouisH (not verified) :: Thu, 12/27/2012 - 3:59pm

In a recent KC game, Brady Quinn in the shotgun was pumping his hands several times, and never did receive the snap. Why wasn't a penalty called after one of those several false snaps?