Every Play Counts
An in-depth look at a specific player or unit on every single play of the previous game

EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

By Michael David Smith

Hand(s) or arm(s) that encircle a defender -- i.e., hook an opponent -- are to be considered illegal and officials are to call a foul for holding. Blocker cannot use his hands or arms to push from behind, hang onto, or encircle an opponent in a manner that restricts his movement as the play develops.

-- Digest of rules, 2005 NFL Record & Fact Book, Page 770

By the above definition of holding, Seattle Seahawks right tackle Sean Locklear committed holding on the controversial fifth play of the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XL. He hooked his right arm around the right shoulder of Pittsburgh linebacker Clark Haggans and restricted Haggans' movement. The call negated a pass that would have given Seattle first-and-goal at the 1-yard line. By the letter of the rules, it was the right call.

But if something is a penalty on one play, it should be a penalty on every play. And during the rest of the game, the officials didn't enforce holding by the letter of the rules. To determine whether the holding call was justified, I studied the tape of Super Bowl XL, watching both offensive tackles on every passing play to see how often they committed the type of infraction for which Locklear was penalized. The results are bad news for the NFL: Using the standard that was applied to Locklear on the infamous play, the four offensive tackles committed 22 uncalled holding penalties on passing plays.

By the letter of the rules, Locklear committed holding 10 times (he was flagged twice). Seattle left tackle Walter Jones should have been called six times. Pittsburgh tackles Marvel Smith and Max Starks should have been called four times each.

Here we present each of the four tackles and the plays on which they should have been flagged for holding:

Sean Locklear

Third-and-9, 12:40, first quarter: As Haggans rushed to the inside, Locklear reached his left arm out and hooked Haggans' left shoulder. Locklear was called for holding, and Haggans sacked Hasselbeck anyway.
Third-and-16, 5:53, first quarter: As Haggans rushed to the outside, Locklear used his arm to hang onto Haggans.
Third-and-23, 0:35, first quarter: At first Locklear engaged Haggans and seemed to get the better of the matchup, but as Haggans broke free and tried to rush to the outside, Locklear hooked him.
Third-and-5, 14:11, second quarter: Locklear got an arm around Haggans as Hasselbeck completed a pass to Joe Jurevicius.
Third-and-3, 8:47, second quarter: Haggans rushed to the inside and Locklear stuck his left arm out to restrict his rush.
Third-and-4, 13:45, third quarter: Locklear hooked defensive end Brett Keisel.
Third-and-15, 4:30, third quarter: Locklear wrapped his right arm around Haggans.
Third-and-5, 14:17, fourth quarter: Locklear hooked Haggans.
First-and-10, 12:35, fourth quarter: The infamous penalty call. Locklear's hold was no more flagrant here than on any of the previous seven uncalled holds. After he was flagged a second time, Seattle adjusted its offense to keep Locklear from having to block Haggans' outside rush, giving him outside help from Mack Strong for the rest of the game.
Second-and-10, 0:34, fourth quarter: One last time, Locklear hooked Haggans.

Walter Jones

Third-and-9, 12:40, first quarter: This was the first time Locklear was called for holding, and using the strict standard, Jones also should have been called. He hooked his left arm around Joey Porter.
Third-and-16, 5:53, first quarter: Smith again tried to get past Jones to the outside, and Jones hooked him.
First-and-10, 2:08, first quarter: This was the Darrell Jackson touchdown that was called back for offensive pass interference. If the officials had used the strict definition of holding all game, it also would have been called back for Jones getting his left arm around Porter as Porter rushed upfield.
Second-and-6, 1:13, second quarter: Porter tried to beat Jones to the inside, and Jones stuck his right arm around Porter's midsection.
Third-and-4, 13:45, third quarter: Jones used his left arm around Porter on an outside rush.
Third-and-15, 4:30, third quarter: Jones hooked Kimo von Oelhoffen with his left arm on an outside pass rush.

Max Starks

Third-and-19, 10:32, first quarter: Starks blatantly hooked Bryce Fisher -- a much more egregious hold than the one for which Locklear was flagged.
First-and-10, 4:53, second quarter: Craig Terrill looped to the outside and Starks hooked him with his right arm.
Second-and-10, 4:47, second quarter: Fisher rushed to the outside and Starks hooked him.
Third-and-4, 10:27, third quarter: Starks encircled Fisher with his right arm.

Marvel Smith

Third-and-19, 10:32, first quarter: Smith held Grant Wistrom.
First-and-10, 0:17, first quarter: Smith hooked Wistrom, then encircled him with both arms.
Second-and-20, 4:21, second quarter: Smith held Wistrom, Wistrom beat him for a sack anyway.
Third-and-2, 2:58, third quarter: Smith hooked Wistrom.

That's 16 uncalled holding penalties on Seattle and eight on Pittsburgh. Because Seattle passed more than twice as often as Pittsburgh did, Pittsburgh's tackles actually committed holding at a higher rate than Seattle's, although the Steelers were never flagged.

If the officials had called holding on two inconsequential plays and ignored it the rest of the time, no one would much care. But Locklear's penalty negated an 18-yard Jerramy Stevens catch that would have given the Seahawks first-and-goal from the one-yard line, where they very likely would have scored and taken a 17-14 lead with less than 12 minutes remaining in the game. Instead they faced first-and-20 from the 29-yard line, Matt Hasselbeck threw an interception three plays later, and Pittsburgh's subsequent touchdown effectively ended the game.

These are my opinions. Someone else watching the same plays might come to different conclusions, thinking there were more or fewer than 22 uncalled holds on the offensive tackles. But no fair observer can say that given the way the rest of the game was called, Locklear should have been assessed that game-changing penalty. Just as in boxing, two judges can watch the same fights and see different things, but when a judge goes beyond the pale, impartial analysts need to call him on it.

And if the NFL doesn't like having its officials compared to boxing judges, a good way to start would be to improve the way it defines penalties. The NFL needs tighten the definition of holding. Change the rules so that the actions described above, which happen on every play, are legal. Then, whatever is contained within the new, more narrow definition, needs to be called consistently and always.

As it stands, the definition of holding is a joke. Here's another part of the NFL's digest of rules:

A runner may ward off opponents with his hands and arms but no other player on offense may use his hands or arms to obstruct an opponent by grasping with hands, pushing, or encircling any part of his body during a block.

Pushing? PUSHING? If pushing is illegal, does anyone out there -- fan, player, coach, referee -- have a clue what is legal? Is there ever a play when an offensive lineman doesn't push a defensive lineman? The NFL has some explaining to do.

Comments

369 comments, Last at 11 Nov 2006, 3:27pm

1 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

I don't suppose that you could e-mail this helpful information to the NFL. It wouldn't do anything, but it might make us feel better. Thanks for doing the work to look at each play, I was wondering about it.

2 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

MDS, have you sent this analysis to the NFL? Someone should be made to explain the difference between the called and uncalled holds, and if they can't it's time to consider revision (clarification) of the rules.

EPC has been consistently excellent all year. Thanks, and looking forward to 2006.

3 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

Mmm. Good article. Is it possible that it's just too much work for however many refs watch the line play? That everytime it was spotted in the SB it was called, but it wasn't spotted enough to be fair?

4 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

16 Seattle holds to 8 Pittsburgh holds?

Maybe we've discovered the secret sauce that makes Seattle's line so great - uncalled holding.

If Seattle got to cheat over a dozen times, while Pittsburgh cheats at half that number, Seattle probably deserved a couple of flags, and expecting every hold to be flagged is probably unrealistic (there are what, 7 Zebra's trying to watch 22 players over a couple of seconds?).

Them's the breaks.

Moral of the Story: Don't hold, and you can't get flagged for it.

Now stop whining about the officiating.

8 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

Another article about the refs?

Anyone who has ever watched a football game knows that holding is a stupidly called penalty. Holding could be called on every play. Sometimes it is called -- Sometimes it isn't called. I agree that it should be better. However, I think FO has gone over board with the complaining here.

Some have said that they feel cheated out out of a good Super Bowl. Well, I come to FO for football analysis, and for the last two years, it has been excellent. For the last week, though, it has just been complaining about the refs. I feel cheated out of the excellent analysis. I have talked up the site to my friends, and they come to it to read a bunch of whining about the refs. They aren't impressed. For the last week this site hasn't been any better than any other site out there, and that is disappointing.

9 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

Having re-read Andrew's comment, I think I see his point. I think he's saying that the frequency of holding calls per hold is low, and that the frequency of holding calls the Steelers got (0/8) is within the standard error of the frequency of calls you would expect the Steelers to get (1/8) based on the frequency of Seahawks holding calls (2/16). Right?

10 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

The problem with this analysis is that it is missing key information: what the refs may have said. It's not uncommon for refs to warn OL about borderline holding infractions before throwing a flag on it. It's entirely possible they told Locklear "stop hooking Haggans on every play" and he didn't. If you notice, Jones was never called for holding despite hooking as often as the Steelers OL did.

11 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

A couple of points:

1. The refs can only something they see. It's possible that some or many of these simply weren't seen. That doesn't say much for the refs, but nonetheless, it is a possible explanation for some being missed.

2. Depending on the referee's positioning, one play may look worse than another, and thus he chooses to flag that play. In this case, if the referee saw that Haggans would easily have sacked Hasslebeck without the hold, he may have deemed it to have been worse than another play he might have seen.

3. Considering how many plays Locklear should have been flagged for, perhaps the referee had just had enough. The refs may be willing to just let the guys play, and let things slide a little bit, but if you keep on doing it and keep on doing it, at some point the ref may decide to put a stop to it. It's also possible that some of the Steelers' players or Cowher had complained about the repeated uncalled holds, and the ref happened to throw them a bone on that play.

I imagine that one can look at a lot of games and find numerous uncalled holds that are no less egregious than the ones that get called. and I imagine that one can find numerous instances where the holding penalties are called onesided.

It happens. It sucks, but it happens. Teams just have to deal with it.

12 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

Michael, This is an excellent article and one that I wish the more mainstream media would write. It actually I think makes the refs look pretty good. They nailed the guy doing the most holding. You always hear people say that you could call holding on every play, and your analysis comes close to backing that up, you didnt even look at guards, centers, TE, or RB and still got 22 holds. But when the refs flag it only twice, and both flags come on the guy doing it the most, then I think that speaks well of the refs.

13 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

Great article, MDS. I agree with the conclusion of the article, but I think that the "infamous" Locklear hold was one that would get called most of the time because it seemed like Haggans got a great jump off the ball, and I imagine that everyone's attention was drawn to that, and then it was easier to see the Locklear hold and flag it.

Of course, I have not done the play-by-play analysis of each blocker, so perhaps there were other similar holds. I just think that Locklear caught a bad break because Haggans was in the backfield quickly, and holding was about the only way Locklear could stop Hasselbeck from getting clobbered.

14 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

I understand expecting consistency, and I agree. However, this sort of comment confuses me:

But Locklear’s penalty negated an 18-yard Jerramy Stevens catch that would have given the Seahawks first-and-goal from the one-yard line, where they very likely would have scored and taken a 17-14 lead with less than 12 minutes remaining in the game.

Taken with:

But no fair observer can say that given the way the rest of the game was called, Locklear should have been assessed that game-changing penalty.

Make it seem like the outcome of the play was significant to whether there should have been a penalty called. The ref doesn't know the outcome of the play when he calls the penalty. Do you really think that he should wait to throw the flag, or do you think we should hear the ref make explanations like "There was no penalty on the play. The result of the play was too exciting."

I am honestly confused.

15 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

Hey, the NFL refs do a whole lot better job than the officials in Quidditch!

(Yes, the first thing I thought of when I saw the headline was "Harry Potter and the 22 Uncalled Holds".)

16 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

I'm not a big fan of, 'This part of the game isn't fair and won't be fair so deal with it.' It think that it is important to strive to make it fair (especially if that is your JOB). You could either call everything, or change the rules so that linemen can legally do what is now considered holding.

Also regarding everyone complaining, it happens when people feel cheated by anything, not just sports. Did you complain after the final Seinfeld episode? A lot of people did, and hopefully a lesson was learned and we won't have to watch a finale that sucks that bad again.

19 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

Re:#16

Oh, I agree that improvement should be sought. But until it gets better, it's just something that teams have to deal with, like injuries. A holding penalty that negates a big gain isn't nearly as bad as tossing an interception a few plays later, you know.

21 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

If the game is going to improve, officiating is part of the equation for doing so, therefore it needs to be discussed. Along with tightening the definitions, and then enforcing the letter of the law more consistently, serious consideration needs to be given to expanding the officiating crews, to add an extra set of eyeballs to line play, and to the defensive backfield, to enforce pass interference more consistently. Making officials full-time employees has it's pros and cons, and I lean slightly to the pro side, but two extra set of eyeballs would undoubtedly expand the number of plays on which officials had good views of what happened between two players. If the rules were written better as well, things could improve.

22 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

I've been reading FO for 2+ years now, and I have to say that this is roughly the worst EPC ever.
I usually love EPC for the story behind the story, but today all I got was a complete lack of insight.
All you can come with is that the NFL doesn't call holding nearly as much as it occurs. Yeah, thanks, I too have seen more than one NFL game.
While I'm sure you probably did a very thorough job cataloging the uncalled holds and I applaud that, it's just not interesting because it's so blindingly obvious.

(Steeler homer disclaimer: I'm only grunting about this article being boring. I'll freely admit we got all the close calls.)

23 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

Football Outsiders has never been afraid to call things like it sees them. That hasn't changed. It just so happens that some of our readers don't like the opinions of some of the FO writers on this issue. And FO is not a monolithic force -- each writer has his own opinion on what happened Sunday.

But the point of this article is not "the Seahawks got jobbed." The point of this article is that the holding penalty as currently defined and called in the NFL makes no sense. According to that last bit Mike quoted, every single block in the NFL is illegal. Instead of having one side screaming conspiracy and the other side trying to pretend that everything is fine and dandy, perhaps we can all get together to fix this problem so that NFL officials call games in a more consistent fashion -- and so that fans of all 32 teams have more faith in those officials to not unfairly influence the game, whether the issue is a holding call or an overturned interception

If people don't want to read about officiating or the Super Bowl, there's plenty of other material on the site, including Scramble and tomorrow's first Four Downs.

24 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

No, I haven't sent this analysis to the NFL. I'm sure they'll see it once it's on FoxSports.com, though.

johnt, I disagree with you strongly about the referees warning players. There's nothing in the digest of rules that says anything about the officials warning players. If the officials are only going to hold players to the letter of the rules after issuing warnings, that should be made clear in the digest of rules.

I do want to make clear that I was only focusing on whether or not the tackles committed holding on each passing play. Holding by other players, holding on running plays, whether or not Haggans was offside -- other people can argue about those, but I wanted to confine this piece to that specific question.

Craig, I'm honestly confused by your confusion. Of course I don't think the result of the play should have any bearing on whether the official throws a flag. I can't figure out why you think the passage you quoted indicates otherwise. Perhaps a neutral third party can tell us where we're not seeing eye to eye.

25 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

Yunzer, well "getting all the close calls" is one thing, but the sentiment around this web site (although not necessarily in this article) seems to be that the League, the Refs, Tags, ESPN, and The Trilateral Commission all conspired to ensure that the desperately inferior Steelers were gifted a Super Bowl that they did not deserve to even be in, much less win. And of course, who can argue with that?

26 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Although Pitt might have won the game with more even officiating, the officials close calls all went to Pittsburgh, and they defintely came at critical points, taking the game out of the players' hands.

I am not impressed by fans saying "stop whining" and "well, you should have executed the two minite drill better." While there were poor parts of Seattle's game, there were terrible parts to Pittsburgh's. Pitt was lucky to win, and part of the luck was one-sided officiating.

I don't think the officials were biased or incompetent. But I do think they were inconsistent. And that's a shame.

27 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

Craig, I interpreted that remark as saying that the penalized play wasn't even close to being among the most flagrant incidents of holding, and thus it should not have been called. Locklear's first hold, for instance, was clearly egregious holding, and should have been called. Other instances of egregious holding, much more blatant than Locklear's second penalty, went uncalled. If the penalties are not going to be assessed with anything close to 100%, or even 90% constancy, then at least it should be reserved for the most egregious incidents.

28 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

The conclusion that it was a bad call because it was a game-changing play is a stretch, don't you think? The flag is thrown before the completion of the play, there fore no knowledge of its effect can had by the official. I think it's interesting to note that holding was called on a first down play, as opposed to many third down plays (obviously there is more passing on third down than first). However, third down is a far more critical down in that its success or failure often determines possesion. By throwing a flag on a first down play, it's possible the referee is trying to make his point about holding, but doing it on a seemingly less critical down. In retrospect it seems critical because of the completion of the play to Stevens. Again, the referee doesn't know this when he removes the flag. I wonder if the officials are this subtle in their thinking in that they know holding goes on constantly. They can't call it constantly or the ganes would never end. They have to call the penalty at points in the game where it sends a message to the offenseive player while hopefully not dramatically affectting the outcome. Any play can be a zero gain or a TD, but by calling the penalty on first down as opposed the third down the officials are trying to minimize some of the risk. In this instance it failed. Again, it's important to note that there's no garuntee that the Seahakws score if the play goes there way. See Bettis Fumble.

29 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

MDS: The point is that it is commonly accepted that there is far more holding going on than is actually called. In every game. Nobody disputes this. Your argument is presumably that this matters because it is applied inequitably or in an unfair manner.

Whether or not refs warn OL before calling less egregious technique holds has a direct bearing on this. Personally, what this article told me was that of the OT in the game, 3 were playing legitimately and one was mugging the hell out of rushers because he was being regularly beat by Haggans' great jump on the snap count. I don't have any problem with the flag on him. If there was a flag on Jones I would be rather disturbed.

32 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

johnt., you ignore that Pittsburgh's tackles were actually holding at a higher rate per examined play. They were mugging at a rate which exceeded Locklear.

33 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

Assuming all the nubmers are right, Locklear still held at a higher rate than either of the Pittsburgh tackles (10/49 > 4/22). Maybe not at the rate of being called, but we're judging an incredibly small sample size by this.

34 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

i haven't ventured into the morass that is the audibles comment thread but i'd like to comment briefly on the statement, "We were all robbed of a good Super Bowl by the officials," sentiment.

frankly, i think the refs didn't steal a good game from us. the teams did. however you happen to feel about the penalties, i have to say that even if none of those had occured it still would have been a lousy game. both teams easily played their worst games of the year. regardless of refs or outcome it still would have been a lousy, sloppy game.

35 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

Will Allen: Do you think the refs are out on the field dividing the number of plays the Seahawks ran by the number of times they've hooked? The Steelers tackles hooked one time per quarter. Locklear was doing it 2.5 times per quarter. It's a lot more likely Locklear is going to get noticed and warned, then caught simply because he's doing it so much.

36 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

To clarify, what I mean is that holding penalties are clearly not linear. If your team runs 10 plays and you hold on one of them you are a whole hell of a lot less likely to get called than if your team runs 50 plays and you hold on 5, despite the "adjusted hold rate" being the same.

38 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

And if the NFL doesn’t like having its officials compared to boxing judges, a good way to start would be to improve the way it defines penalties. The NFL needs tighten the definition of holding

I'm with you on that one. That definition is so ambiguous, potentially broad, and open to interpretation. One example is the word "encircle." Here is the definition I just looked up- "to shut in on all sides." I do not know how a player can encircle another player with his hands, unless that player is an action figure. With the arms, I am picturing a bear hug with both arms, or one arm wrapped around the neck.

But then, in parentheses, it says "i.e. hooking." I do not think those are synonmyms, you can hook (bend elbows/wrist?) and encircle, but you can also hook but not encircle.

The push from behind seems confusing and superfluous. I would think a push from behind would constitute a penalty for a "block in the back", and should not be in the definition for holding.

Maybe FO should draft and revise a more workable rule to put forth.

39 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

Discussion of the officiating in the Superbowl is not only a legitimate topic on FO, it should be a concern to anyone who truly cares about the NFL. This is not "whining about the refs", the NFL is facing a serious image problem. With all the focus on statistics and analysis I think some people here have forgotten that the primary purpose of football is entertainment. I know quite a lot of casual football fans who were not "entertained" at all by the Superbowl, they were disgusted. Now you can point to all sorts of technical reasons why the refs are correct and the casual fans are wrong but if the fans stop watching and stop caring that argument quickly becomes irrelevant. Overcomplexity of rules and lack of consistent application of those rules is becoming a real problem and to just wish this away with a statement like 'there have always been bad calls' is whistling past the graveyard.

40 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

MDS, so much of your discussion of that play is about how important the play was. I think that gave me the impression that the importance of the play should have some bearing on the the penalty. However, you made the important point earlier in the article. That if these penalties had been called on inconsequetial plays, then nobody would have cared. That's absolutely true. If that is the reason you focused on the importance of the play, then that's fine.

This particular play was very important not only because they should have had the ball on the 2 yard, but because of what happened after it. On the next three plays, they allowed a sack, gained a few yards on a run, and threw an interception. If they had gone on to score a touchdown, then nobody would have cared.

This sequence is particularly interesting because of what the Steelers did in a similar situation earlier in the game. Right before the Steelers scored at the end of the first half, they threw a screen pass to Jerome Bettis that gained 5 yards to the Seattle 17. The play was called back because of offensive pass interference on Heath Miller. They never showed a replay, but I can tell you that Heath Miller was no where near the action of the play. Instead of 3rd and 5, the Steelers are faced with 2nd and 20. After a sack, they are at 3rd and 28. It is a pretty similar situation to Seattle. The Steelers were lucky/good enough to still get a touchdown out of it. If Roethlisberger had thrown an interception, which led to a Seattle touchdown and a 10 point Seattle half time lead, we might be scrutinizing that offensive pass interference play a little more. As it is, this is a perfect example of what people are talking about when they say the Steelers made plays when they had to.

41 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

MDS, could you take note of where the officials were on the uncalled holds when breaking this down?

People speed all the time, it's illegal, if there are not cops around they can't enforce it. Just because they can't enforce things they can't see doesn't mean they have no right to do so when they do catch it.

Maybe what we should do is have 22 officials on the field. Or have one guy with an array of monitors reviewing each play from multiple angles, looking for infractions. We'd make the play clock 2:00 and allow for full booth review before each snap. Seems like a good way to increase the entertainment value to me.

42 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

Any system of rules should be simple to understand, and simple to enforce. Does anyone believe that the NFL rule book (or the part of it available to the plebs) meets that definition?

If the guys responsible for refereeing the game aren't certain, and this season and the playoffs in particular (not just the SB) has shown that, then it's time for a redrafting session.

43 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

#33: It's actually 10/57 > 4/28. For Seattle, the plays with pass blocking are 49 pass attempts minus one spike (48), plus three sacks, plus 3 scrambles, plus three plays negated by penalty (57 total). For Pittsburgh, it's 22 pass attempts, plus one sack, plus 3 scrambles, plus one QB draw, plus one play negated by penalty. So Locklear was holding on 17.5% of plays with pass blocking, the Steelers' tackles were holding on 14.3% of plays with pass blocking (if you don't like my including the QB draw, call it 14.8%), and Jones was holding on 10.5% of plays with pass blocking.

I don't think the officials are thinking about "holding rates" in the game, though. I think it's more likely that an official sees this de jure holding over and over, lets it go (for both teams), and every so often a play comes up where the official says to himself, "Nope, I can't let that one go." It could be, in his eyes, too blatant to not call: the pass rusher goes to the ground as he's heading straight for the QB. It could be, in his eyes, the straw that breaks the camel's back: this hold is no worse than any of 6 others, but I gotta stop it. I don't know what Bill Leavy was thinking when he threw the flag; neither does anyone else but Bill Leavy.

44 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

Just another thought on this. On the play that dare not speak its name, it seemed fairly clear to me that if Haggans isn't hooked, he gets to Hasselbeck before he throws the ball.

Does the official language on holding provide any sort of discretion regarding the impact of the holding (i.e. don't worry about it if it happens away from the play??). From a logical standpoint (which is probably not where the NFL rules come from) it makes sense to not penalize holds that have no impact on the outcome of the play. I guess it would be dubious if an official could know if a hold ultimately impacts the outcome of a play.

45 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

I don’t think the officials were biased or incompetent. But I do think they were inconsistent. And that’s a shame.

#26, Pawnking, I liked all of your post, but I especially liked the comment above. It's not about "whining" or who got the calls, or even who won the game. It's about being consistent enough that the teams know how they have to play so that the game taken out of their hands.

46 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

According to some reports, Locklear was warned by the refs that his technique was holding/borderline holding throughout the game. On the call in question, it looked close from the replays shown during the game. From the other side angle, it was a clear hold. Haggans was by him and Locklear had is arm on Haggans chest. Linked is a still shot picture that shows this clearly, IMO[warning: the link is to a Steelers fan site]. That said, Haggans MAY have been offsides on the play. Should off-setting penalties have been called? Or does the offsides negate the holding call?

47 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

another aspect to the discussion is whether the physical field positions of the officials responsible for calling holding on the line is optimal these days. The holding calls under discussion appear when the pass rusher turns the corner - the bodies turning away from the line judges, the holding occurring inside. The ref's first priority is the "protecting" the qb so picking the action from the tackles on each side is secondary.

48 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

#44: Columns elsewhere from officials say that this is the case (if the penalty materially affected the outcome of the play). I doubt it would show up in the rules, but that's the only way that the game wouldn't last 15 hours.

49 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

Aaron,

To say that there is plenty of other content on the site is a little silly. There have been 4 articles so far this week. Two of them have been nearly exclusively about the refs (audibles and EPC), one of them most of the text about the refs (Quick reads), the other had almost nothing about the Super Bowl. Reading FO on the Super Bowl, you might get the impression that two things happened in the game: the refs were horrible, and Tom Rouen can't punt.

I actually would love to read about the Super Bowl. There are some interesting questions left unanswered. The Steelers two biggest defensive players (Porter and Polamalu) were almost invisible in the game. Why was that (Walter Jones is probably the reason Porter didn't do anything)? Why did Jackson have 5 catches in the first quarter, and none the rest of the game (did he just step out of bounds too much)? Did the Seattle defense do something spectial to cause Ben to have a bad game? These are the types of questions that I expect FO to answer, and I am disappointed that it hasn't happened.

I love the site. It is clearly the best football site on the web. This week just hasn't been your best week in my opinion.

51 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

Great article. This underscores what I said earlier; there are too many types of penalties, and too much judgment is involved in their enforcement.

What would be wrong with eliminating holding, except for grabbing someone with your hand or hooking/tackling them from behind? If penalties are defined in a way that they are obvious, then they will be enforced more consistently.

I would be interested in am similar study on (1) pass interference/illegal contact, both off and def, and (2) blocking infractions on returns. How can these penalties be simplified so that an infraction is obvious and more likely to be consistently enforced? Fewer penalties make for a better game, for the fans, the players and the League.

With respect to penalties in general, the focus needs to be on the safety of the players first. For example, many rule changes in the recent have favored the offense, especially the passing game. To compensate, the defenses put more and more emphasis on rushing the QB. This results in more injuries to the QB, and more late season games where the fans get to see Todd Bollinger and Mike McMahon scatter the ball about the field, and who wants to see that? I'd much rather watch NFL caliber QBs struggle against good defenses, than 3rd and 4th stringers try to score against defenses that have the rules stacked against them.

52 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

#24 MDS
I'm a Steelers homer, but still, some of your sentiments above are ridiculous. It is common knowledge to all NFL players and coaches (and viewers of NFL Films) that officials warn players, then flag them if they continue their offending behavior. Why would this need to be in the digest? And your article makes way too big a deal about the outcome of the one big play, in a truly IMPARTIAL analysis, the outcome of the above plays where holding occurred would be irrelevant, since the official can't know that when he throws the flag. Basically what you're saying is that the guy who held the most, got the most calls, nothing unfair about that. Unlucky for SEA when it happened, certainly, very much so, but that's all it is, bad luck. Also it is entirely possible that the official threw the flag on the second SL hold, because the OT gained so much of an advantage on that play, after all if he doesn't hold, then MH gets sacked.

53 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

Yes, John, and that's part of the problem; the rule is so inconsistently enforced, either due to a bad angle (which could be alleviated by an extra set of eyes), or because officials have differing interpretations of the rule, or even worse, that a single official will have the interpretation of the rule change as the game progresses, because the call is dependent on which player he has seen more often, or because of some other factor, like whether he has issued a warning, that the rule becomes meaningless, and a holding penalty just becomes a random event.

Heck, why not just have ping-pong balls drawn through a tube, lotto-style, and hand out penalties every twenty minutes or so? It'd be cheaper than hiring a referee, and more aesthetically pleasing; we could have the cheerleaders do it!

The goal of officiating is to call the infraction every time, in exactly the same manner, no matter if it is the first possession of the game, or the last possession, whether you have seen the player do it seven times, or if it is the first time you've seen him do it. Can perfection be attained? No, of course not, but right now, the NFL isn't even trying to meet this standard in regards to holding.

What I actually see more often in the NFL, and has been a constant source of irritation to me for years, is precisley the mirror image of what we saw Sunday; offcials whose interpretations of holding will grow increasingly lax as the game progresses, especially in tight games, or when a team is mounting a comeback. It gets to the last half of the fourth quarter, and pass rushers are flat-out getting tackled without drawing a flag. Who knows? Maybe the bad angles are more prevalent in the fourth quarter. That Leavey engaged in the same behavior on Sunday, except in the other direction, is no better.

It is not "whining" to make the observation that officiating affects the quality of the product, and that officiating in regards to holding is so wildly inconsistent now that the quality of the product is now being harmed. That it happened in the Super Bowl now just puts a larger spotlight on the issue.

54 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

To me this article can be viewed as defending the refs. The rules (as written) make it impossible to call the game fairly. It seems like the refs have to pick and choose when they are going to call holding to keep things clean, since they they can't call it on every play (even though the rule would require it). It's like in basketball when the refs call a few touch fouls when things start to get physical, to keep the game from getting out of hand. The difference is in basketball the refs know the play in question won't be pivotal to the game, and in football the refs don't.

55 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

I would like to apologize for my use of the word 'whining'. It is unnecessarily inflammatory.

I agree that a discussion of the officiating is great. There should be changes made. My problem is that it is being discussed so much that nothing else is being discussed. Those of us who cared about the game would like to see some analysis of the game. People who didn't care about the outcome of the game would rather discuss topics that will improve the NFL product as a whole.

I just hoped to get some discussion of something other than the refs.

56 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

#46: I would think that, if the official throws a flag for offsides then lets the play continue, he'd be unlikely to throw a second flag for a hold on the OT if he commits holding on the guy who jumped. Even if he isn't "unabated to the quarterback" it would be foolish to penalize the OT for protecting his QB from getting killed by a guy who just got flagged 5 yards "for cheating" as Kenny Mayne might say. At the least, I seem to recall a couple instances where an offsides player looked held to me and no holding was called, and I never remember seeing holding and offsides be offsetting penalties.

Good EPC MDS, thanks for the research.

57 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

MDS -- I'm a Seattle homer and as outraged about the Locklear hold as anyone.

But I can't agree with what you've written in #24. Anyone who's officiated any sport (at least, any with lots of players and plenty of contact) knows that the gray areas for these penalties are vast, and might be very differently enforced with internal consistency by different referees. It's a game-management tool for officials to talk to players, tell them to back off when they've done something that's close, or that's technically over the line but didn't affect the play, even in some cases to talk a player out of committing a penalty you see he's about to commit. You just can't throw the flag that often. Just as clearly, you can't write formally into the rules, "the first two holds are free."

I agree it would be nice if the rulebook as a whole were clearer, and the rules as written bore a closer resemblance to those that are actually called. But you're never going to get a completely bright line here. And for that matter, a lot of the ambiguity and contradictions in rulebooks results from attempts to legislate too much specificity. The horsecollar rule is a great example -- should there really be a specific rule about it? Is it a rule if it's never actually called? This word "immediately" in the statute ... how are you supposed to interpret that?

Discretion in officiating is like toothpaste in a closed tube. You can't get rid of it. You can only squeeze it to a different location.

58 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

Joel, should not the NFL endeavor to reduce the degree to which luck decides the outcomes of games? Would not more consistent enforcement of the rules help in this regard, whithout harming the product in other ways?

59 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

For whatever its worth, Haggans was not offsides. I saw a still the other day where you can see him not quite across the LOS after the ball is snapped. He and Hampton both got ridiculous jumps on the snap, I think they had Seattle's quick snap read.

60 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

Excellent article. To those unhappy because they think all this talk of poor officiating takes away from the Steelers win, relax. Your team did a better job on Sunday, and deserved to win. As a fan of one of the other 30 NFL teams, I'm just interested to see how the top-rated NFL crew handled this aspect of the game. If I remember right, Aaron said a while back that FO had been doing research about officiating for the next book. Good timing.

61 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

After he was flagged a second time, Seattle adjusted its offense to keep Locklear from having to block Haggans’ outside rush, giving him outside help from Mack Strong for the rest of the game.

I cannot help wondering how the game would have played out had the officials called Locklear for a second time on say his third or fourth hold, as they apparently should have. Would Mack Strong have played lineman for three full quarters? What effect would that have had?

62 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

I disagree, Smeghead. I've refereed and umpired also, and I've found the quickest way to modify behavior which I wish to end is to apply the negative conditioning the first time I see the behavior which violates the rule , and then tell the player, if it isn't blindingly obvious, why the penalty was assessed. Humans, like mules, adjust their behavior more quickly in response to the actual application of the two by four, compared to the threatend application. If you've ever dealt with a drill instructor, you'll notice that they don't get people to modify behavior as quickly as possible by threatening punitive measures.

Of course, clearly written rules help in this regard as well, but the sooner the negative conditioning is applied, the sooner you are more likely to see the behavior end, and thus improve the flow of the game. If application of the current rules of holding would result in too many holding penalties, or too many sacks, to have a quality football game, then the rules need to be written differently, and then applied with as much consistency as humanly possible, from the first infraction to the last.

63 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

#60: I'm not unhappy because all this talk of poor officiating takes away from the Steelers win, I'm with Craig: unhappy because all this talk of poor officiating takes away from talk of anything else.

64 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

I'd agree with # 54. To my eye, this makes the refs' calls (at least with respect to holding) more defensible. I think it is safe to expect that the player with the most gross holds, rather than the highest holding rate, to get flagged. This is particularly the case if he has been warned. To put it into a real world context: who is likely to get more speeding tickets? A guy who drives every day and speeds half the time, or a guy who drives the same route 4 times a year and speeds every single time?

It's also interesting to note that 80% of Locklear's holds were on third down, which may suggest that he 'needed' to hold on obvious passing downs. In contrast, 4 of Jones' 6 holds were on 3rd, and only half of Smith and Starks' were. DISCLAIMER: sample sizes are small and I have no concrete recollection of what the down distribution of each teams' passes were.

65 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

Re: Craig, #14

A slam dunk criticism.

A good rule of thumb for OL: You can test the officials and the rules by holding pass rushers, but you will get called for holding from time to time. You are taking a calculated gamble that won't always payoff in your favor.

66 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

#58 Of course they should, but nothing he suggested does that. No matter how finely you define some things there will always be gray areas, or room for judgement. For example, you Will have written that you didn't feel that this particular hold was that bad, but AFTER SL is beat, he clearly attempts to tackle (pull down) CH and almost succeeds, he doesn't let go until CH is all the way past him and starting to fall. I have written from the start (when I saw it live) that I felt this was BLATANT holding. We don't disagree on if holding occurred but as to the severity of it, how could this be anything other than a subjective judgement? I have Steeler homer eyes and you have Steeler hater eyes and that colors both of our judgements. My point is that what MDS claims he's asking for is impossible in the real world.

67 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

Re: 49

My take from this article (which I enjoyed even though I'm tired of discussing the SB40 officiating) wasn't so much that the refs were horrible. The key points to me were that 1) the calls made may have influenced the outcome and 2) the holding rules as currently written are byzantine and in need of clarification.

68 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

Commenting on Jackson's non-TD:

When I saw this play happen, I was convinced I knew what the rule was because of a play dealing with what I believe was the exact same situation in the 2002 season. This was Gannon's best season, and he had probably his best game on MNF in Denver. This was the game in which almost every pass he threw was complete, mostly in an effective dink and dunk passing, but then he went long to Rice at the goal line corner. I thought there was no way the pass would be caught in bounds, and to the best of my memory, Rice caught the ball, got one foot in, and kicked the pylon with the other. The play was ruled a TD (no review, I believe). At least Rice kicked the base of the pylon, but I'm convinced that there was no way that second foot was entirely in bounds.

So when the play went down at the Super Bowl, I told my buddies that if he kicked the pylon, it was a TD. They very quickly showed the replay, and in that one look at the replay, I thought he didn't kick the pylon, so I let it go. I finally watched it again, and I saw what everyone else agrees on: he did kick the pylon.

My memory of Rice's play could easily be faulty, but I think I see inconsistency here.

69 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

This comment thread is ridiculous. Whether you think the Seahawks got jobbed or not, or whether you think MDS thinks the Seahawks got jobbed or not, is impertinent to the main point of the article.

The point is that if the NFL wants to avoid controversy over holding calls, they need to properly define what holding is, and be consistent in penalizing holding. MDS demonstrated clearly that the refs were inconsistent in calling holding. Go ahead and fire back with your smartass comments about how everybody already knows that the refs have never called holding consistently, but he does a good job by going over ever single specific case.

The NFL is missing the forest for the trees; MDS is just pointing out the trees.

70 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

I think #40 and #41 above are perhaps the two best comments I've read on FO since the Superbowl.

I also think there's some sort of logical disconnect in that certain Seattle fans (not claiming MDS is such, as I know for a fact he isn't) would use the above analysis to claim that the holding call was bad, but also say the OPI shouldn't have been called because, in the playoffs, you're supposed to "let the players play" and not call a lot of penalties.

71 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

To be more precise, Joel, I have written that this call was inconsistent with the most prevalent application of the rule, which is why I object to it. That isn't how holding is normally called.

Now, to prove my contention would require measures that nobody is going to take. Have a panel of recently retired offensive tackles and perimeter pass rushers sit down and, without knowledge of when flags were thrown, view several hundred randomly selected pass plays, and select 50 or so which they think most resemble the interaction which was seen on Sunday, and then see what percentage of that 50 actually resulted in a penalty. My hunch would be less than 10% of the time, and certainly less than 20% of the time, is what was seen on that play results in a flag, and this, to me , indicates it was a very bad call.

72 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

Wow. I've heard more complaining from this site then Seattle (and I love what this site does). Again, yards, TOP, and turnovers are great stats, but they are just that - stats. They don't give points for stats.

Seattle could not sustain a drive for many reasons (notably the Steelers defense) The Steelers overcame mistakes and penalties better than Seattle. Hence they scored more points than Seattle and won. Strange game ... yes, but these games happen. yards, completions, TOP does not mean a THING if they don't lead to the endzone. How about Seattle's lack of any big play? They moved around the field but failed to break anything - Football games come down to a few plays and Seattle made none of them.

With regard to holding, its not as though the ref waited to see if the throw was a completion to the 1 before calling holding on locklear - if that was an incompletion (and Madden doesn't mention it on TV) no one ever talks about it. Besides the ref didn't make Hasselbeck throw an awful INT on the next play

This is really starting to sound like sour grapes.

73 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

From someone who spent a fair amount of time educating people in new technology/industrial applications the NFL would be well served to

--define offensive holding

--generate examples available in text form, videotape, DVD, mpeg.

--gather all officials and review together and in crews.

Repeat last step over and over and over and over and over again.

Tabulate holding games called per game per crew over the course of a season (and seasons)

Look for crews comprising the maxs and mins. Analyze in more depth and review results with crews.

Folks can harp about "each game is different" and "what, are we setting quotas now?". But the only way to systematically alter a currently flawed method is to

--define the expectations

--educate folks on the expectations

--monitor their performance

--Assess

You have to close the loop.

Where the NFL has REPEATEDLY failed is that some new rule is implemented or an "old" rule is believed to be going uncalled and the league makes a big hoo ha about reviewing this with the officials and the teams. And then for about three months into the following season fans watch as some arcane rule gets assessed. And by December it's forgotten.

Classic example, defense drawing offense offsides. Rule was created and for about two seasons you would see a defense get called for inducing the offense into moving prematurely. Now it's just illegal procedure like it was forever.

Oh, and make physical fitness a priority. These older guys with their pot bellies, bad reflexes, and 20/40 vision have got to go.

And as an old guy myself I can cast that stone. :)

74 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

Unless I missed it, nobody has pointed out that part of the problem, in the case of the Super Bowl, is that the NFL still insists on creating an "All-Star" officiating crew for that game. How do they, and how can we, expect a group who has not worked together to perform at a high level? There have been discussions, quite probably on this site, as to the overall "quality" of the various crews, and the NFL grades crews as well as individual officials, so why don't they send the crew with the best season grade to call the biggest game of the year? That might go a long way, at least in the SB, to elevate the consistency of rule interpretations and enforcement on the field.

76 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

Much of the criticism has to do with claiming these calls took away a chance for an "exciting" game.

In that regard, the NFL and the refs deserve considerable credit. They have an interest in an "exciting" game; and from their point of view, excitement means offense and scoring. Look at the way they've tweaked the rules regarding the passing game over the last 30 years: they've generally been geared to make it easier to throw the ball.

The criticism of the refs is much ado about nothing; it's the result of increased scrutiny. Relative to most NFL games, not only was the Super Bowl not poorly officiated; it was actually well-officiated.

The attention on the refs is, in my opinion, more a result of a generally lazy media incapable of interpreting and narrating for readers a game which featured good defense, but not necessarily a lot of dramatic defensive plays.

77 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

Aaron, the issue is not "It just so happens that some of our readers don’t like the opinions of some of the FO writers on this issue." You and the other writers (with the exception of Ned Macey, kudos to him), went way over the line in criticizing the officiating. Spouting the popular opinion on dubious evidence is certainly not up to the standard of the rest of your work. It was very disappointing.

78 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

The reason the Locklear hold was called when others were ignored was that Locklear was beaten by a whole step by Haggans. The referee can clearly see the hold because of the seperation (an arms length) between Locklear and Haggans. He HAS to make that call. People are debating whether Haggans was offsides, and he might have been, it's very close on both that play and the next one where Hampton sacks Hasselbeck. If he got the great jump (and it's legal) because the snap count had gotten too predictable, then Hasselbeck is partly to blame here.

79 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

How about something like this:

Holding:
Holding is defined by two parts- position and contact. It occurs when the the definition is satisfied and the movement of the held player is impeded in a fashion such that it has a relatively immediate, meaningful impact on the flow of the game.

Position:
The holding player must be below, to the side, or behind the held player from the held player's frame of reference.

Contact:
To constitute a hold, the holding player must have (1) grabbed the held player with his hands or (2) draped his hand or arm over the front or side of the held player while the players were moving in different directions.

Definitions:
"relatively immediate" shall mean a short peroid of time subsequent to the hold, no longer than 5 seconds.
"meaningful impact" shall mean inteference with the goals of the held player on the play including but not limited to rushing the quarterback, running a route, and pursuing the ball carrier.

Application:
All actions that satisfy the requirements of this rule shall be considered holding penalties. This rule does not, and is not designed to, encompass all actions considered a holding penalty, for performing which a player may therefore be penalized.

I like something like that. Some hard-and-fast rules that allow the refs to separate questionable holds, includes defensive holding, includes a way to throw out unimportant holds a team should not be penalized for, and lets the ref call obvious yet bizzare instances of holding.

I, also, am kind of disappointed by this article. I like the idea that we should talk about officiating, but it just seems a bit analysis-heavy, and really isn't all that damning of the refs. I understand that Aaron and I (and probably MDS) are never going to agree about the officiating. It would have been nice to see a discussion about some other aspects of the game.

I do like discussing the rules in abstract. What do people think about a rule like that?

80 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

Well, if we can all agree that holding happens on every play, and holding should be consistently called, are we ever going to be able to see a play run? For those who demand consistency, an entirely reasonably demand, what would you like to see? Change the rule to where it only applies when a lineman tackles someone? I would like to see some brave soul draft this new rule and post it on this site for our consideration. And when I say draft the new rule, I do not mean simply say "There are no holds unless you tackle someone." Write it out like you would like to see it in the rulebook.

Then, to insure greater consistency, also rewrite the rule on pass interference, because that one is not called consistently either. Then write one for illegal contact past five yards, because that is not called consistently either. Then write one for illegal hands to the face, cause that one happens very often and is rarely called. Write one on delay of game, because that one is not called consistently either.

Consistency would be nice, and I am sure that the NFL strives to achieve it. But I do not care what rule exists in any arena - there is a human element in officiating, and there is inconsistent officiating in every sport in every level. (Check various umpire's strike zones, for instance).

We would all like to have a Super Bowl (or any other game for that matter) decided on the merits of the teams, and to be totally free of controversy. So, I have no problem with those people who wish that had occurred in the Super Bowl. But I do not think it makes sense to bash referees for calling a penalty when it WAS a penalty. From what MDS has written, if holding had been called consistently Seattle would not have been able to ever put together any drives, because Locklear was a holding machine. I think Clark Haggans should file a protest, because if he hadn't been held so much he might have got the MVP and drove off in the Escalade.

81 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

Thanks for doing the work on the penalties, but I just don't agree with your analysis of the data. The refs called more penalties on the team that committed more penalties. I think that's doing a good job. Your argument about the rate of penalties per play doesn't make sense in the real world. People have made good points about speeding. The more often you do it, the more likely you are to get a ticket. I'd like to see someone bring up the "but I never got ticketed before for going 70" defense or the "I only speed 30% of the time" defense in a court room.

It's almost like someone is conspiring to make officiating the only story from this game, even when the statistics say otherwise. The guilty parties here are the SeaHawks and Steelers who both played pretty lousy games. If they had played better no one would even care about the refs.

82 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

MDS, great article (mostly). Though, I would have liked it if you had cited my audibles discussion post when you wrote about the effect of the number of pass plays on the number of penalties. (smile)

Your data, although subjective, is about the best we can hope for in looking at non-called penalties. That Pittsburgh committed 33% of the holds (in your judgment) while running 30% of the pass plays is a pretty good sign that the teams were similar in their blocking/holding techniques. If you had seen one less hold by Pittsburgh, it would have been 30% - almost too exact a match to be believed.

As I have said elsewhere, if the teams used similar techniques, then a 2-0 and 1-1 split on called penalties are equally likely. So no signs of a problem there.

In your analysis, you focus on the idea that one hold that was called was both (a) less deserving of a call than other holds, and (b) on a more important play than other holds. And you conclude that the rules on holding need to be changed to prevent this from happening again.

(b) was a little silly, in my opinion, and I hope in yours as well. The referee making the call might be able to see that the pass was thrown, but he's decided the penalty before he notices the completion. He may be aware of the game clock and score, but the NFL is never going to say that holding is legal in the last ten minnutes of a game, or for the team with fewer points, or on complete passes.

What's more, there were plenty of plays where a holding call would have been critical. Most drives will stop after a holding call. In terms of importance, I would think that third-down holding calls have the most impact.

(a) is more interesting. What makes a hold deserving of a penalty? Or more importantly, how would we want refs to make that judgment? (I'm assuming we want them to call enough holds to discourage the practice, but not enough to slow the games down)

Visibility: refs should only call holds they can see.

Clarity: the more flagrant the hold is, the more likely it should be that the ref calls it. For example, if you pull someone to the ground by grabbing them from behind, that should always be called. If you reach out sideways to hook someone and release them quickly (oops! didn't mean to do that!) that should be less likely to be called.

Impact: holds that have no more effect on the play than the equivalent legal block should rarely be called. Holds that prevent a sack or send the defender to the ground deserve more scrutiny.

That's a lot of judgment to ask in a split second from a ref, but they don't seem to mind, usually. Basically, if they see a hold, they have to answer "how bad was it?" and "how much did it matter?" and somehow combine those two into a call/non-call decision.

I didn't do your game tape review, so I can't comment on all of the holds, but I do know that the "infamous" hold resulted in the defender falling to the ground near the quarterback's feet as he was releasing the ball. Perhaps that apparent impact of the hold had more importance to the referee than the particular holding technique used. We can disagree on the ref's judgment, but it's harsh (and seems impartial) to call it "beyond the pale".

83 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

From what MDS has written, if holding had been called consistently Seattle would not have been able to ever put together any drives, because Locklear was a holding machine. I think Clark Haggans should file a protest, because if he hadn’t been held so much he might have got the MVP and drove off in the Escalade.

Or, the officials might never call holding. This would have them consistently applying the rule by never applying the rule at all, by ignoring it absolutely.

Of course, if the officials were to legalistically apply the holding rule, thereby dramatically increasing the rate at which holding calls were made, the likely result would be something like this: Initially, offensive linemen would hold a lot, get called for holding a lot but would eventually adjust to the way the officials were calling holding by, by? By not holding if they can at all help themselves in this regard! See the NHL this season after it began to enforce the rules as written.

85 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

Craig - I just wanted to let you know that I thought your comments on this thread were excellent. I especially enjoyed your point about the pass interference call on the Steelers' 2nd Qrt. TD drive which nicely illustrates how pulling plays out of the context of the game can inflate their importance.

FO - Can we please have an article on some other aspect of the game? I have become a huge fan of this site over the last year but I must say that my respect for it is decreasing by the day.

86 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

When the "cognoscenti" on this website start citing conspiracy theories and continually harp on penalty calls, it starts to tarnish what I had thought of it. I bet the 1980 game between seattle and San Diego in 1980, had hometown SD -10,and a 21-7 lead with five seconds left. Zorn took snap,ran straight back while being chased by
Leroy Jones and heaved it down the right sideline to steve Largent who caught bthe ball at the SD 1yd. line. My celebration was nipped when I spied a refs hat lying on the field (he threw his hat because he couldnt get to his flag).The agme cant end on a penalty so Seattle scored on the next play with no time on clock. I didnt think that game was "suspicious".I got over it and moved on.Perhaps some of you should do the same.

87 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

From the AP wire, Feb 5, 2007: The New England Patriots defeated the Carolina Panthers 4-2 in yesterday's Super Bowl. The game ended at 2:14 am Eastern Standard Time and was the longest game in NFL history, primarily because 87 penalties were called. Both teams, backed up deep in their own territory by the constant flags, scored all their points on safeties. Victorious coach Bill Belichek stated at a rather subdued Lombardi trophy ceremony, "We're glad to win our fourth Super Bowl, but if I'd wanted to watch flags flying and guys walking back and forth, I would have gone to see a &*+#$% drill team."

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue stated, "It may not have been the most exciting Super Bowl ever, but our new emphasis on officiating, we know that it was the most properly played Super Bowl ever. This was the first Super Bowl played with four extra officials on the field and no limits on reviewable calls.

In other sports news, ESPN2 announced that its telecast of the Minnesota state curling championship, which was shown at the same time as the second quarter of the Super Bowl, gained a record share and was one of the three highest rated programs in ESPN history.

90 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

#9,

If Pittsburgh got 0 of 8, and Seattle got 2 of 16, that means the game saw 2 of 24 called. Regardless of whether the other two are acceptable on their own, that grand total is laughable. Nobody at FO is saying Seattle got robbed, they're saying "Hey, why can't this penalty make more sense so that it doesn't become the centerpiece of major plays without any real consistent understanding of when it will and won't be called?"

Similarly, I'd like it if there was more uniformity with this "he made a football move" nonsense that either got ignored or neglected when Stevens non-called fumble occurred.

91 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

#78, if Leavey HAS to make that call, why is it I can cite numerous examples in most games in which more flagrant infractions occur in full view of referees without drawing a flag? I mean, I'm tired of talking about this particular play as well, but the point is that the rule is so inconsistently applied right now, that it is readily apparent that there is nothing that a referee HAS to do.

92 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

87, in a humourous fashion, makes an excellent argument for writing rules which openly allow for more contact without penalty than is currently the case.

93 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

You're just spoiled with all the narrow Patriot victories.
Steelers beat the Seahawks (best offense, MVP etc) with 11 points (2 points more than the Patriots in 3 Super Bowls combined) and bla bla bla Pittsburgh isn't that good.

94 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

These penalties we are debating, whether correct or not, were applied inconsistently in a game that was already conspicuously loaded in the Stealers favor. Without the inconsistent penalty calling the Seahawks would have been far ahead on the scoreboard and firing on all cylinders to victory. The refs completely changed the game starting with the Gray holding call in the first quarter. Possibly EVERY call they made killed the Seahawks in the red zone. I've never seen such biased officiating in my life. Hawk fans will be the first to admit when their team lost a game of its own accord. That's not what happened Sunday.

95 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

Maybe inconsistent calls are really incomplete understanding! Post #73 is in the right direction. I do believe the NFL has all that, but gives it only to the refs.

This is not a problem with unfairness or sloppy officiating or a lack of definition; this is the result of the NFL trying to avoid criticism by not sharing with the fans the rule book and the qualifiers and special cases in full. Their attitude has been "trust us." The internet has made that attitude and approach obsolete.

As to the article, was the "true and active" definition of holding used, or did you use your best judgment which would make for a consistent, but flawed analysis?

96 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

#25, #41, and #50: thanks for illustrating the Straw Man in action so we all have a handy reference. It really adds to the discussion.

I don't get the complaining about what FO has been covering the last few days. It's been, what, 4 days since the Super Bowl? And like it or not, around the nation the biggest story of this game was the officiating. I'm quite sure that there will be plenty of actual football analysis in the days and weeks to come.

Officiating is an integral element in the game, officiating was poor to atrocious throughout the regular season and especially the playoffs, and despite the attempts by some to shout down discussion on the topic, NFL officiating has delivered, at minimum, the appearance of bias in how big games are called. Clearly, the system has major problems that the NFL seems loath to address.

Even if the issue of bias would somehow be proven nonexistent, it is abundantly clear that application of the rules is highly inconsistent and excessively open to interepretation by the officials on the field. Personally, I thought MDS's breakdown did an excellent job of illustrating this. It's impossible to completely eliminate the problems, but the issue is that the NFL isn't even trying.

And please, let's quit throwing around the term "conspiracy," which has been used almost exclusively to belittle those who believe there was a real problem with the officiating. Nobody except the most blind partisan yahoos actually believes there was a premeditated, orchestrated campaign to hand the Super Bowl to Pittsburgh. But bias, which unlike a conspiracy can be either conscious or unconscious, does exist in officiating – and based on this game, where one team's big plays were all wiped out by arguable judgment calls while the other team was given virtually a free pass – it certainly appears that it played a factor. Just as it did in the Pitt-Indy game, and the Den-NE game, etc.

97 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

Re: #84

I believe I understood Loki9179’s point. I just wanted to add that the officials could also consistently apply the holding rule by not applying the rule at all. I brought it up because this particular use — or non-use! — of the holding rule would conform to MDS' claim that

...no fair observer can say that given the way the rest of the game was called, Locklear should have been assessed that game-changing penalty.

It is interesting that MDS doesn’t address the following issue: That the officials could have striven for a consistent use of the holding rule by calling every holding infraction. Why would we want to eliminate that option? Eventually, the offensive lines and Coordinators would have adjusted to the strict manner in which the referees were calling the offensive line play.

I believe my addition was consistent with his whole argument, of which I originally quoted only a small part:

Consistency would be nice, and I am sure that the NFL strives to achieve it. But I do not care what rule exists in any arena - there is a human element in officiating, and there is inconsistent officiating in every sport in every level. (Check various umpire’s strike zones, for instance).
We would all like to have a Super Bowl (or any other game for that matter) decided on the merits of the teams, and to be totally free of controversy. So, I have no problem with those people who wish that had occurred in the Super Bowl. But I do not think it makes sense to bash referees for calling a penalty when it WAS a penalty. From what MDS has written, if holding had been called consistently Seattle would not have been able to ever put together any drives, because Locklear was a holding machine. I think Clark Haggans should file a protest, because if he hadn’t been held so much he might have got the MVP and drove off in the Escalade.

I happen to agree with the sentiment that would have offensive linemen avoiding holding calls by not holding pass rushers!

98 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

This is too long to read all the comments and see if it came up already, but don't O-linemen hold on running plays too? So why compare the number of passing plays solely?

99 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

There is another thread with discussion on the game... that thread is the "FO on Fox: Quick Reads" Extra Points article. It's mainly officiatng free... but I'm not sure people have anything to say.

Everyone wants to talk about the officials, as the game boiled down to dropped passes on Seattle's side and 3 big plays for Pittsburgh. Then if you boil it down a little more, we see that Seattle's punter sucked, and Roethelisberger didn't have a great game.

The problem is the key drive of the game was the one that looked like Seattle was going to storm ahead and take a 17-14 lead... they really were bullying the Steelers on that drive, a drive that started on their 2 yardline, a drive where Seattle's offense was setting a quick pace.... and a drive that ended with a controversial penalty followed by a disputed non-horsecollar tackle, a sack where the player could've been off-sides, and a Matt Hasselbeck "I have the ball and I'm trying to score" interception.

Something underrated about this drive... ABC's presentation SUCKED. We never saw any replays on Haggans brilliant jump/off-sides twice (nary a mention)... we never saw a good replay of the horsecollar tackle, and I'm not sure we saw a good angle on the Hasselbeck interception. Were underneath routes open and did Hasselbeck try to do to much with the ball?

100 Re: EPC: Sean Locklear and the 22 Uncalled Holds

RE: 96

What reasons/theories can you offer as to why the referees would be biased in the Steelers favor? I have no problem with people who believe that the referees made mistakes during the game. I agree with them. But to claim that the mistakes were due to some bias strikes me as being without any foundation. To what bias are you referring, and what do you think caused that bias?

I think a clear answer to this question would resolve a lot of issues for those of us who have a hard time seeing the calls as anything but judgment calls that came at inopportune times for the Seahawks. Please enlighten me as to the bias.