Officiating: The "Push Out of Bounds" Defense
New Orleans Saints 35 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 28
Fourth-and-9, Tampa Bay at NO 9, :05 of Q4
5-J.Freeman pass short left to 19-M.Williams for 9 yards, TOUCHDOWN NULLIFIED by Penalty. PENALTY on TB-19-M.Williams, Illegal Touch Pass, 0 yards, enforced at NO 9 - No Play.
Dan: If you can chuck a guy out of bounds and then he can't be the first person to touch the ball, why don't all CB's chuck their WR's out of bounds and then leave them alone for the rest of the play?Also, if you can chuck your receiver when the QB rolls out, why don't all defenders immediately chuck their guys to the ground when the QB rolls?
Dan is, of course, referring to Mike Williams' penalty for illegal touching of a live ball, which ended the game. We've heard a lot about how the officials made the correct call, but not so much why. First, the definition of ineligible receiver (Rule 8-1-6 (d)):
An eligible receiver who has been out of bounds prior to or during a pass, even if he has re-established himself inbounds with both feet or with any part of his body other than his hands
But there is an exception, which seemed to be applicable:
Exception: If an eligible receiver is forced out of bounds by a foul of the defender, including illegal contact, defensive holding, or defensive pass interference, he will become eligible to legally touch the pass as soon as he re-establishes himself inbounds with both feet or with any part of his body other than his hands
To answer your question, Dan, what happened on this play would have been illegal contact (8-4-3), but contact cannot be called unless "the player who receives the snap remains in the pocket with the ball." A defender can still be penalized for defensive holding (8-4-6) if the contact is a hold and prior to the pass, or for pass interference, which is philosophically the combination of holding and contact after the pass is thrown (8-5-2). So, while you can push a receiver out of bounds if the quarterback has already left the pocket, you could not grab the receiver and throw him out of bounds, since holding has no pocket exception. You could not do either after the ball has been thrown.
The other important point is a combination of tactics and information. While there is usually a coach on the sideline shouting to the defense when the quarterback has rolled out, the chances of each individual defensive back hearing and understanding that message over the noise of the game is relatively small. The timing is also incredibly specific: the second the ball leaves the quarterback's hands (and everyone, principally the referee, is shouting the ball is away), contact that was previously legal is immediately pass interference, provided the ball is thrown in remotely the same direction as the receiver. So, in order for this scheme to work, the defensive back has to:
1. Know that the quarterback is out of the pocket, based on incomplete information; and
2. Know that the pass has not yet been thrown, which can happen at any time; and
3. Shove the receiver out of bounds in a way that includes no holding (and the officials are going to watch this one like a hawk).
If any of those three conditions fail, it's a penalty, and all three penalties (illegal contact, defensive holding and defensive pass interference) carry an automatic first down for the offense. Combined with the fact that most sideline routes are run halfway between the numbers and the sideline (not next to the line itself) and the extreme risk associated with this strategy, it's small wonder no team has made it a significant part of their defensive scheme.
And if anyone did, the competition committee would just remove the pocket exception.