Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

07 Oct 2005

Week 4: Ask Jerry Markbreit

Reader J. Foglas sends along this link to "Ask Jerry Markbreit." Growing up, Markbreit was my favorite referee (still not sure why -- maybe it was because he seemingly officiated every game), and now he has a weekly Q & A. And as CaffeineMan requested in another thread, this is my attempt to link to something with a little more substance, but not quite so sensational. (Although, who doesn't love this story? Seriously. OK, I'm done -- I couldn't help myself.)

(free registration/bugmenot required)

Posted by: P. Ryan Wilson on 07 Oct 2005

25 comments, Last at 10 Oct 2005, 11:08pm by CaffeineMan


by geoff (not verified) :: Fri, 10/07/2005 - 10:50am

(Homer drooling noise) Man, I live for rule minutiae like this...

A free kick after a safety is exactly the same as a kickoff, and all rules with regard to recovery by either team exists. The only difference is that the kicker may not use a kicking tee. Most free kicks after a safety are punted. It is unusual, but every once in a while an onsides kick is attempted by the punter and, even though it looks funny, the kickers may recover after the ball has traveled the necessary ten yards.

by PatsFan (not verified) :: Fri, 10/07/2005 - 11:29am

Thanks for digging that up! I used to be a regular reader of Markbreit's column but it drifted off my radar. I'll have to put it back.

And I agree with geoff. Rule tidbits like that are great!

[renews plug for FO to do a monthly interesting/obscure rules article :)]

by PatsFan (not verified) :: Fri, 10/07/2005 - 11:32am

And here's another interesting kicking-related one (from his Week 3 column):

Here's the rule: If a free kick that doesn't travel 20 yards goes out-of-bounds, the first time an onside kick is attempted, the kicking team is to be penalized five yards and must re-kick, except inside the last five minutes of the second half, when there will not be a free kick. While the receiving team may not waive the kicking team's obligation to rekick, it is not deprived of a choice of distance penalties in case of a multiple foul. For a second consecutive onside kick out-of-bounds, or for any onside kick out-of-bounds inside the last five minutes of the second half, the receiving team takes possession of the ball at the out-of-bounds spot.

(this was in the context of the questioner asking how it is determined if a kick is an onsides kick for the purposes of determining whether the receiving team gets the ball at a spot or if the kicking team gets penalized and has to rekick)

by PatsFan (not verified) :: Fri, 10/07/2005 - 11:39am

One more (then I'll stop...really! The archive of those columns is great!)

I did not realize that the "noise rule" was still in effect (see Markbreit's 14 Sept column). Anyone remember the last time it was actually enforced? It has to have been years, hasn't it? I had just assumed it was repealed.

by MDS (not verified) :: Fri, 10/07/2005 - 11:50am

I know the crowd noise penalty is still on the books, but it hasn't been enforced for years. It's ridiculous to have a rule like that and never enforce it, even though everyone knows road teams frequently have to go on silent counts and use hand signals while home teams can bark out audibles. They should either get rid of the rule or tell the referees to start calling it.

by geoff (not verified) :: Fri, 10/07/2005 - 11:50am

I can't help myself. Who knew that there was an exception to the "half the distance to the goal" rule:

An exception would be intentional grounding, which is penalized at the spot of the foul if that spot is more than 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage.

Fo[r] example: If the ball was snapped from a team's own 15-yard line, and the quarterback illegally grounded the ball at his 2-yard line, the enforcement of the penalty would put the ball at the 2 instead of half the distance to the goal.

by King Kaufman (not verified) :: Fri, 10/07/2005 - 11:59am

I heart Jerry Markbreit. Just from this one column, I learned the rule about the punt receiving team having the choice (I've wondered why they don't just blow the whistle as soon as the kicking team touches it), and the thing about how the official has to SEE the ball before he blows the whistle on a stopped runner. Makes sense, it just never ocurred to me.

The first time I read Markbreit, I learned why the clock keeps running for a couple of seconds after field goal, as at the end of the Pats-Rams Super Bowl -- because the clock stops when the ball hits something beyond the goalposts. One of the truly dumb rules in sports, but interesting. (I have since become a connoisseur of this situation, and I can tell you that the clock almost always runs for a second or two or even three after it hits the screen.

A stats question: Markbreit explains the kickoff return/penalty rule by talking about a 75-yard return being called back after 65 yards, meaning the guy's credited for 50. But most of the time it's more like a 25 yard return to the 25, penalty at the 20, first and ten at the 10. Does that mean the returner gets credit for a 10-yard return? That would totally skew the individual return stats, wouldn't it? It would be a measure of penalty avoidance by teammates, not retuurning ability. If a running back runs 30 yards and it's called back for holding, he's not given a run of minus 10 yards.

by J-Diddy (not verified) :: Fri, 10/07/2005 - 12:08pm

I remember in Parcells first year coaching the Jets, Week 17 in Detroit, Jets needing a win to make the playoffs. Neil O'Donnell starts griping to the ref about the noise, and they warn the Lions fans on the P.A. to quiet down or the team would be penalized. That is the only instance of the noise rule I have ever seen in my *many* years of watching football.

Just writing this brings back memories of that game. Leon Johnson throwing that red zone interception on the HB option pass. The defender was out of bounds when he caught it, but those were the days before instant replay.

Then again, after seeing Brooks Bollinger behing center last week, I long for those days of 8-8. :)

by MDS (not verified) :: Fri, 10/07/2005 - 12:10pm

Actually, King, Markbreit was wrong on the return question. The return man would be credited with the yardage to the point of the infraction, not to the point where the ball was spotted. So if Dante Hall returns the ball for a 75-yard touchdown, but there's clipping at the 10-yard line, he gets a 65-yard return.

by MDS (not verified) :: Fri, 10/07/2005 - 12:22pm

J-Diddy, I remember that game, too. When you're a Lions fan, you've got to remember the few good moments, and that was the game when Barry went over 2,000. And, of course, you're right that it was a terrible call that gave the Lions that interception (never let it be said that I can't acknowledge bad calls that help my team). Those were actually the days between the two replay eras, back when they scrapped the booth review but before they brought in the coaches' challenges.

by King Kaufman (not verified) :: Fri, 10/07/2005 - 12:50pm

Thanks, Michael. That's still a little weird, but just now I can't think of a better solution than credit to the point of the foul.

by Jerry F. (not verified) :: Fri, 10/07/2005 - 1:03pm

The question I would like Markbreit to answer is why refs go and run up to the pile and pull players off on a goal-line run before signalling touchdown. If all that matters is whether the ball crosses the plane before the knee is down, what difference does it make where the runner is (or whether he even still has the ball)after the play?

by brasilbear (not verified) :: Fri, 10/07/2005 - 1:07pm

I like the football info, but in past columns it has really bugged me when he always sides with the refs. I'll find an example. Is it an unwritten rule that one ref (retired at that) can't/won't critize another ref?

by Matthew Furtek (not verified) :: Fri, 10/07/2005 - 1:30pm

I've been waiting for a rules thread. I have a few questions that have been hurting my brain. I can't find a clear answer on any of these. I sent email to MDS, but either it was lost by the Internet Postal Service or he wouldn't touch them with a 10 foot pole. The examples are embellished in order to amplify my question.

1) What is the rule on out of bounds and forward progress? Is a player out of bounds when a part of his body first touches out of bounds? If this is true does it mean he can advance the ball as far as possible while falling out of bounds?

I guess my hypothetical question would be... what would happen if Superman was a ball carrier, and his last step in bounds is from the sideline on the 50 yard line... if he flies out of bounds and ends up advancing the ball to the 35 yard line, yet 10 feet out of bounds. Does he get credited for the yards he gained while his body was in out of bounds airspace?

2) Does the plane of the goal extend beyond the goal line to include out of bounds, or does it stop at the out of bounds air space? We always see players extending the ball back over the pylon in order to get the ball over the plane. Yet until the goal line I've seen the ball advanced by players falling out of bounds (question 1). Why are the rules different for the goal line?

3) How come receivers don't have to obey the same rules as ball carriers going into the end zone? Let's say you have Inspector Gadget and his 10 foot gadget arms. Joe QB passes the ball, and Mr. Gadget catches the ball while it is 5 feet to the side of the end zone or 5 feet behind the end zone. He does the toe-two-step and falls out of bounds retaining possession. This player has just scored without having possession of the ball within the planar area of the end zone. If you had a QB throwing the ball to a receiver near the side of the end zone, you could score a touchdown without the ball ever breaking the plane.

by geoff (not verified) :: Fri, 10/07/2005 - 2:27pm

#14: I don't know about the answer to your #1, but 2 and 3 are answered in the archives accessible from the linked article

by PatsFan (not verified) :: Fri, 10/07/2005 - 2:35pm

Re: #14

1) Player is OOB when any part of his body touches OOB ground. Note that "OOB ground" includes the entire body of any player who is himself touching OOB ground (as Bills fans who remember that 2001 OT game against the Pats well know...). I believe the bodies of refs are also OOB if any part of the ref is touching OOB ground as well. And yes, if a player jumped into the air at the 50, and first touched ground OOB at the 20, he would indeed have advanced the ball 30 yards.

2) As Markbreit says, the goal line "goes around the world." The goal line is really the "goal plane". The plane lies at the front edge of the goal line stripe and extends infinitely up, left, and right. So the rules aren't different for the goal line. If I'm running downfield along the left sideline and a defender is at the one yard line and at the two I leap 45 degrees to the left and come down OOB but with the ball past the goal line (even though not in the field of play), it's a touchdown.

3) Your scenario would be a touchdown because the player had possession of the ball behind the goal line. The ball itself never has to be in the endzone.

by Jerry Garcia (not verified) :: Fri, 10/07/2005 - 2:55pm

I remember that game too.. and I'll always grieve over the half back option pass, thrown by someone that had never thrown a pass before. I lost a lot of faith in Bill Parcells after that, never forgave him and kind of thought he was an over-rated idiot. Of course, after watching little Santana Moss burn the Cowboys twice in a matter of minutes the other day, it sort of reinforced my belief. That was maybe some of the worst coaching I have ever seen.. except for the old half-back option pass against Detroit.

by MDS (not verified) :: Fri, 10/07/2005 - 2:57pm

Matthew, sorry, I don't think I ever got your e-mail. PatsFan, thanks for picking up the slack and answering.

by yep (not verified) :: Fri, 10/07/2005 - 3:11pm


That was also the Reggie Brown game. I was in the stands for that one. Nothing scarier than a quite stadium of 80,000 people with a player lying motionless on the field. It might also have been Scott Mitchell's second to last game as a Lion.

by MDS (not verified) :: Fri, 10/07/2005 - 4:47pm

Jets fans were mad at Parcells for the halfback pass, but I gained a lot of respect for him that day. Instead of grumbling that a bad call may have cost his team a spot in the playoffs, the first thing he said at the post-game press conference was, "Winning and losing isn't particularly important compared to the injury Reggie Brown suffered out there."

by J-Diddy (not verified) :: Fri, 10/07/2005 - 6:25pm

Wow I forgot all about it being the Reggie Brown game. I guess I was pissed so bad about the option pass thats all I can remember. :P

Whatever happened to Reggie Brown? Was he ever able to walk again?

by Matthew Furtek (not verified) :: Sat, 10/08/2005 - 1:00pm

Thanks for the answers!
It seems like a lot of players don't understand the whole "goal plane" thing. They don't need the ball to hit the pylon. But I'm guessing that some of the referees don't understand the goal plane either.

Now this all makes sense, because there is consistency in the end zone. To the receiver catching the pass near the side of out of bounds... the ball did cross the plane when the QB passed it to him, even if the pass was out of bonds. Once it crosses the plane, that's it.

by MDS (not verified) :: Sat, 10/08/2005 - 1:51pm

Reggie Brown made a quick recovery and was walking only weeks after the emergency room doctors thought he might die. He never played football again, but his health is fine.

by Sid (not verified) :: Mon, 10/10/2005 - 9:24pm

I like the rule about the illegal touch. I didn't know that the receiving team can then attempt a return, and even if they fumble, they can take it where it was illegally touched.

by CaffeineMan (not verified) :: Mon, 10/10/2005 - 11:08pm

After being busy at work the end of last week and spending the whole weekend on my motorcycle, I'm finally catching up. Since this thread had my name on it and I blasted Ryan Wilson previously, I figure I owe him a big "Thank You" for links like this. :)

And Ryan, I also want to say that I have no problem with controversy, I just want it to be nuts-and-bolts football controversy, not the "he-said-she-said" controversy. I can read about who's doing pushups in their driveway and who's disrespecting who someplace else. Heck, I'd rather argue about the Tuck Rule game, at least that was a football argument. :) And for the record, I'm sick of the disrespect schtick by the Pats and I'm a Pats fan. Thanks again for the good links.