Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

16 Oct 2012

Officiating: Getting it Right

Detroit Lions 3 at Philadelphia Eagles 0
Second-and-6, Detroit at PHI 13, 4:53 of Q1

PENALTY on DET-G.Cherilus, Unnecessary Roughness, 15 yards, enforced at PHI 13 – No Play. Penalty on DET-C.Johnson, False Start, declined.

This non-play was a bit of a doozy. Matthew Stafford took the snap and dropped back to pass; however, the short wings threw their flags, whistled the play dead, and reported a false start on the offense. It is important to remember that, despite the flags coming after the snap, false starts are always dead ball fouls, since they involve movement before the ball is snapped (live). After the players milled around a bit, Gosder Cherilus punched Jason Babin in the face. The umpire was in the middle of all this and threw a flag for unnecessary roughness. Philadelphia declined the false start, accepted the roughness, but the referee then announced that it was third down. There are two problems with this:

1. The commentators have no idea how the rules work, so they just picked up on the referee's ruling regarding the down and said the roughness was "after the play," when it was in fact before the play, during the same dead-ball period as the false start; and

2. Because TV crew has no idea how any of this works, they cut to a commercial a few seconds before the referee got back on his mic and announced that the prior ruling was incorrect and that it was still second down. In fact, the only person who seem to have caught this were myself and one of Mike Pereira's minions, as his excellent (albeit difficult to parse) twitter feed almost immediately mentioned the correction. FOX's broadcast didn't even mention it after returning from commercial.

The officiating crew quickly got the down corrected, but the audience at home was completely left in the dark. Just a reminder that game management is just as important, if not more important, than rules enforcement.

Posted by: Mike Kurtz on 16 Oct 2012

13 comments, Last at 17 Oct 2012, 12:58pm by Mike Kurtz


by BigCheese :: Tue, 10/16/2012 - 2:02pm

I know you can only accept one penalty per play, since accepting it renders whatever else happens in that play not happen (expcet when it's a tacked on after the play penalty).

My question is, since this was all before the play, would accepting the False Start have also wiped out the UC?

- Alvaro

Phil Simms is to analysts what Ryan Leaf is to NFL QBs

by matskralc (not verified) :: Tue, 10/16/2012 - 5:00pm

Yes. When there is a multiple foul situation (more than one foul by the same team during the same down [which is the case here, as both fouls were committed during second down, as the false start means third down never started]), only one foul may be enforced and accepted. The captain can choose which one he wants, but he can't have both. There are two exceptions:

-a foul committed against a game official is always enforced
-if the defense commits pass interference that is also a personal foul, both fouls are enforced

One thing that I am dying to see: the offended team always has the option of accepting a foul but declining the yardage penalty. Sometime when A has 4th and long from B's 38 and purposefully takes a delay of game penalty to get the punter 5 more yards to try and pin B and avoid the touchback, I want to see some savvy team decline the distance.

by matskralc (not verified) :: Tue, 10/16/2012 - 5:02pm

-a foul committed against a game official is always enforced

In addition to any other fouls on the same team, I mean.

by Cliff Claven (not verified) :: Tue, 10/16/2012 - 6:33pm

You've never seen that? I certainly have, but it's been a while.

by MJK :: Tue, 10/16/2012 - 10:56pm

See, this is what I don't understand. I thought you couldn't decline a false start, and that you could have as many personal fouls in addition to other penalties.

I think your explanation of multiple fouls being "during the same down" is wrong. If I line up on 2nd down and false start, we lose 5 yards. It's still 2nd down. If we false start again, we lose 5 more yards. That's two penalties accepted on 2nd down. Similarly, if I punch someone in the face and get a 15 yard penalty, that does not give my team free rein to punch someone else in the face as long as they do it before the next snap, because they've already had their one penalty for that down.

It's different from, say, a situation where a defense goes off sides, and then committs a personal foul. Since off sides isn't a dead ball foul, both penalties did indeed take place during the same play, and I can see you can only accept one of them.

But if one side false started, and then someone punched face, I don't understand why both penalties weren't accepted. Otherwise, once the other team accepts a false start, why can't you just punch as much face as you want?

by StanleyNeedsATan :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 9:02am

I agree totally, that the explanation is not 100% correct, otherwise we might see lots of face punching!
Reading all this talk of face punching is making me laugh this morning!

by Noah Arkadia :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 11:19am

You'd probably get ejected. But I get the conundrum.

FO posters are a peacock. You got to let us fly!

by artmac (not verified) :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 7:47am

someone actually did this recently. can't remember the specific game (think the Giants might have been involved but that could be wrong). the offense stalled out in the red zone, then tried to take a delay to give their kicker a better angle on the FG, but it was declined. so not the exact thing you're talking about but the same principle.

by Noah Arkadia :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 11:21am

What intrigues me about your post is this: What would be the advantage to accepting the foul but declining the yardage opposed to declining the foul and the yardage? I can't think of anything.

FO posters are a peacock. You got to let us fly!

by Mike Kurtz :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 12:36pm

Theoretically you could forestall a review of the play if the foul in question is non-reviewable but other aspects are questionable, and the result of the play is greater than the enforcement of the penalty.

It's hard to envision this playing out in practice, however.

by Mike Kurtz :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 12:58pm

You're thinking about fouls in the wrong framework. For offsetting and single foul purposes, there are three parts of a "play:"

1. Dead ball prior to live ball
2. Live ball (what the rulebook refers to as a "down")
3. Dead ball after live ball

Obviously 3 and 1 link together between subsequent and previous plays. The other rules to remember are:

1. Penalties within a single dead ball/live ball period offset unless one of the fouls is disqualifying (14-1-8).

2. A major foul (15 yards) is enforced at the previous spot over an otherwise offsetting minor (5 yards) foul by the opposing team (14-3-1).

3. A live ball foul followed by a dead ball foul are both enforced (not double fouls).

3. The rules for dead-ball fouls after a scoring play and at the end of either half are different (and too numerous to go into in this comment)

by Diz (not verified) :: Tue, 10/16/2012 - 2:26pm

The announcers got it wrong but the graphic on the screen was correct, stating it was second down- not third.

Unclear why you think no viewers caught this. It was obvious to any knowledgeable fan watching and paying attention.

by Scott P. (not verified) :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 11:41am

I was confused! As you note, the graphic said 2nd down, the announcers said third down, as did the officials, so I figured the graphic was simply wrong.