Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

25 Oct 2005

Week 6: Ask Jerry Markbreit

OK, I'm a week behind, but Marbreit still has some good stuff in here. He explains that dopey fair catch ruling in the Monday night Steelers-Chargers game two weeks ago, gives the precise specs for an official NFL football, gives some advice on how to become an NFL referee (yikes), and actually knows the answer to the "When was the last time the home team was penalized for the crowd noise?" question mentioned here a few weeks ago. (free registration/bugmenot required)

Posted by: P. Ryan Wilson on 25 Oct 2005

16 comments, Last at 26 Oct 2005, 1:09pm by Bill Krasker


by CoreyG (not verified) :: Tue, 10/25/2005 - 10:49pm

I was disappointed to read Jerry's misinterpretation of the "tuck rule" question. I believe the consequences the guy is referring to are: If a fumble is ruled as an incomplete forward pass (due to the tuck rule) and it occurred inside the tackle box with no receivers near, shouldn't it be considered intentional grounding(this is the consequence the questioner meant)? Or: If a "tuck rule" play involves the incomplete pass going backward, shouldn't it still be considered a backwards pass/lateral since the ball went behind where it was thrown from? The "tuck rule" redefines the play as an incomplete forward pass, but in those two situations there would be penalties (or fumble recoveries) for the consequences/results of the tuck-rule incomplete forward pass.

by PatsFan (not verified) :: Tue, 10/25/2005 - 11:02pm

I disagree on both counts.

First, if the tuck rule redefines whatever happened as an "incomplete forward pass", then by definition it cannot be a fumble, since incomplete forward passes are dead balls, not loose balls.

Second, the penalty is intentional grounding. Just like there's no IG call if the QB's arm is hit while throwing and the ball ends up hitting the ground 20 yards from the nearest receiver, I don't see why there should be any IG on a "tuck rule" incompletion if the QB was not intending to ground the ball.

by CoreyG (not verified) :: Tue, 10/25/2005 - 11:14pm

Well incomplete forward pass is redundant since by definition a backwards pass cannot be incomplete, so call it an "incomplete pass." However, the original question brings up the situation that a QB can then intentionally ground without penalty by simulating a tuck-rule play, which doesn't seem like it would be that difficult to do. So what's the deal then? If the tuck rule prevents IG calls, will QBs then pump fake and lose the ball instead of throw the ball away?
As for my post, I was trying to clarify what I thought the original questioner was asking with regard to consequences, which Jerry Markbreit did seem to misinterpret. It's unfortunate because it's a good question and I'd like to see him reconsider his answer.

by Adam (not verified) :: Tue, 10/25/2005 - 11:18pm

The Detriot Lions almost got penalized for the crowd noise back in 19976 or 1998. I remember it was against the Jets and Neil O'Donnell kept complaining about the noise and how he couldn't hear (what a concept for the home team) and the refs warned that if the crowd noise didn't quiet down the Lions would be charged with a timeout.

I honestly didn't even know such a rule existed. And I don't think one should exist. You have home games for a reason.

by Kachunk (not verified) :: Tue, 10/25/2005 - 11:19pm

"Under NCAA rules, the clock should have been stopped and was stopped correctly because the ball was fumbled out of bounds. Under NFL rules, a forward fumble out of bounds is returned to the spot of the fumble and the clock will start on the ready-for-play."

So what he's saying is that in NCAA rules, if you're a yard short of the first down, you can cough up the ball so it rolls out of bounds past the 1st down marker, and you'll get the first down? That would be, for lack of a better phrase, "wiggedy wack."

by Adam (not verified) :: Tue, 10/25/2005 - 11:28pm

That should read 1997 by the way. Not 19976.

by foos (not verified) :: Wed, 10/26/2005 - 3:10am

Re #5:
The spot of the fumble is the spot where the player loses the ball, not where the ball goes out of bounds.

by princeton73 (not verified) :: Wed, 10/26/2005 - 9:48am

That should read 1997 by the way. Not 19976

they should have instant replay figured out by THEN

by MJK (not verified) :: Wed, 10/26/2005 - 10:41am

However, the original question brings up the situation that a QB can then intentionally ground without penalty by simulating a tuck-rule play, which doesn’t seem like it would be that difficult to do.

I think the difference is that the QB's arm (or body) has to be hit in order for grounding to not be called. That's where the intentional part comes in. If a QB just pumps, starts to tuck, and let's the ball go so it falls to the ground at his feet, unmolested but with defenders in his face, I'm sure he would get a grounding call. It's only when he's being hit that refs will not call grounding. In order for a QB to try to use the "tuck" rule (which isn't really a rule, just a clarification to keep the officials from trying to judge intent) to avoid intentional grounding, he would have to wait until a defender contacted him and try to "tuck and drop" the ball in such a way so that it looked like the defender caused the ball to come out, but so that his arm was moving forward at the time. That doesn't seem particularly easy, safe, or a good idea, which is probably why you don't see it.

by Devin McCullen (not verified) :: Wed, 10/26/2005 - 11:05am

I was talking about a related topic with a friend while watching the Giants-Broncos game. When Plummer had a tuck-rulish pass/fumble that got reviewed, I was arguing that if they ruled it was a pass, he should get hit for intentional grounding because there was no reciever anywhere near the ball. My friend said that he didn't think they could impose the penalty on the review when it had never been called on the field. (The other element is whether they wouldn't call grounding because you couldn't be sure where he was intending to throw the ball since he got hit as he was throwing.) Anybody have any thoughts on this?

by Devin McCullen (not verified) :: Wed, 10/26/2005 - 11:06am

Sorry, for some reason I didn't really read the first couple of comments.

by Jen (not verified) :: Wed, 10/26/2005 - 11:10am

IRRC, KC was penalized a few times in the mid 90's for crowd noise. I was never there when it happened but I was told that one time it went Elway complains to ref - flag - crowd gets louder - Elway complains again - flag - crowd gets deafening - Elway complians - ref say just run your friggin' play. That's hearsay though...

by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Wed, 10/26/2005 - 11:47am

Anyone have a guess as to the confluence of these two weird rules:

1. The tuck rule
2. The rule which states that, a QB under center who leaves that spot to move around, becomes an eligible receiver (which drew a penalty on Peyton Manning in last year's divisional playoff game, when the ball was direct-snapped to Edgerrin James while Manning was still in motion).

What happens if the QB goes under center, moves out, gets the ball (either by snap or lateral), gets pressured, then "tucks" the ball at his own feet? (Other than a lengthy referee confab to sort it out.)

by Talion (not verified) :: Wed, 10/26/2005 - 12:17pm

MJK (#9), that's a nice little explanation, but unfortunately it's wrong. In the Washington / Denver game, Jake Plummer fumbled while trying to bring the ball back down out of a pump fake with no one around him. He recovered it in the end zone and was sacked for a safety. The refs called it a safety on the field, then under replay challenge reversed it as an incomplete pass, citing the tuck rule by name. The Redskins proceeded to lose the game by 1 point. Not that I'm bitter. (BTW, it was third down, so the Broncos punted on the next play...it's a rare case where points were taken off the board but virtually the same thing happened afterward so the hypothethical is almost valid).

The point is, the tuck rule can be invoked without a defender nearby, so if you're an idiot you can try to intentionally ground in the pocket by tuck-fumbling. I say an idiot, since let's face it, we all know it should be a fumble, and the refs instinctively call it a fumble too in real time. It's only the anal retentive eye of replay that enforces the tuck rule.

by MJK (not verified) :: Wed, 10/26/2005 - 1:07pm


Really? That was not my understanding of the tuck rule. My understanding was that it was not an explicit rule that says "When the QB is tucking the ball, if it pops out it's considered a forward pass". I thought that all it was is a clarification to the rule that says if a QB's arm and the ball is moving forward when a defender strips the ball, it's a forward pass, even if it looked like the QB was "tucking" the ball. Does anyone know the exact wording of the rule?

Even if you're right, the problem isn't with the tuck rule. The tuck rule is designed to remove ambiguity and judgement of intent in distinguishing a fumble from a forward pass. However, what you describe is something different. You describe an issue with the "intentional grounding" penalty, which does require a judgement on the part of an official, and is made after something is already considered a pass. All the "tuck rule" says is that something should be considered a forward pass, not a fumble. Once it's a forward pass, it's up to the official to decide if the "forward pass" was intentionally thrown in order to escape a rush and avoid a sack. In Plummer's case, this was obviously not the case (and in any case where a person lets go of the ball after a pump fake--they obviously didn't do so intentionally, so how can you call intentional grounding?)

On the other hand, if someone tried to abuse the rule and used the tuck rule to drop the ball, the refs certainly could and probably would call grounding.

As to your comment about the anal retentive eye of replay. You need some standard to allow objective judgement. If a runner lets go of the ball a split second after his knee grazes the ground, it should probably "really" be a fumble too, but that's not the way the rule is written, and the anal retentive eye of replay is used to make sure the letter of the rule is enforced. Can you imagine the disputes if the rule read that the officials should have to judge whether the ball might have come out before the player was fully tackled (evening assuming you had a good definition of "fully tackled")? Similarly, what if the rule read that the refs had to decide whether the QB intended to let go of the ball, and if the ball went exactly where he intended it, and base their calls on that. It would be clear cut in some cases, and a disaster of judgement calls in others. Under the current rule, a ref watching a QB get sacked and stripped is supposed to watch to see if the QB's arm is moving forward before the ball comes out, and if so should rule an incomplete pass. If he misses a forward moving arm, that's what replay is for.

by Bill Krasker (not verified) :: Wed, 10/26/2005 - 1:09pm

Note 2 to Rule 3-21-2 says that "When a Team A player is holding the ball to pass it forward, any intentional forward movement of his hand starts a forward pass, even if the player loses possession of the ball as he is attempting to tuck it back toward his body." [Emphasis added.] The clause I put in italics is the Tuck Rule. Notice that for the Tuck Rule to come into play, the player must be attempting to tuck the ball. If instead he releases the ball deliberately, the Tuck Rule doesn't apply, but the rule prohibiting intentional grounding might.