Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

17 Oct 2012

Officiating: Substitution Hijinks

Dallas Cowboys 13 at Baltimore Ravens 24
Third-and-2, Dallas at BAL 10, 4:20 of Q3

Dallas substitutes a number of players into its short-yardage package, while the play clock runs. While Dallas is getting set, four or five Ravens substitutes run onto the field. A few seconds later, two more Ravens sub out while three Ravens sub in, so at that point the Ravens have made two waves of substitutions. Despite the play clock running and Dallas already in its formation, for some reason the referee is standing over the ball, preventing the offense from snapping. By the time the ball is ready for play, the play clock has been reduced to under five seconds, and the Cowboys (to avoid a delay of game) signal time out. A Ravens player (James Ihedigbo) attempts to signal a time out, despite Ed Reed's protestations. Ihedigbo is not a captain, and therefore his signal is ignored. Dallas is charged with a timeout.

The inimitable Mike Carey, after the TV timeout, announced that "we were late spotting the ball, so that took the timeout away." Dallas received its timeout back, which was absolutely correct, because they called the timeout to avoid a potential delay of game due to the officials' error. What confuses me more is why Carey was guarding the ball until the second wave of Ravens defenders left the field.

Rule 5-2-10 allows a defense to substitute after an offensive substitution:

If a substitution is made by the offense, the offense shall not be permitted to snap the ball until the defense has been permitted to respond with its substitutions. While in the process of a substitution (or simulated substitution), the offense is prohibited from rushing quickly to the line of scrimmage and snapping the ball in an obvious attempt to cause a defensive foul (i.e., too many men on the field).

Baltimore has a right to make a substitution in response to Dallas' substitution. There was a slight mechanics breakdown by the crew (the umpire is supposed to guard the ball from entering play and wait for the signal from the referee), but I'm not sure it had anything to do with what happened. The issue is Baltimore's second wave of substitutes. Once the substitutions were made, the rest is at Baltimore's peril. Carey should have moved off the ball and allowed the play to proceed, since Baltimore had a chance to substitute and merely did so ineptly.

If Carey really had believed the second wave to be part of Baltimore's substitution by right, then his options were to reset the play clock (what Tony Romo wanted) or call an officials' time out (what Jason Garrett wanted). Hamstringing the Cowboys by guarding the ball during action that most likely would have resulted in an illegal substitution, then forcing a timeout (even if reinstated) was the worst of both worlds.

Posted by: Mike Kurtz on 17 Oct 2012

7 comments, Last at 18 Oct 2012, 7:30am by bubqr


by Travis :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 1:31pm

Ravens player (James Ihedigbo) attempts to signal a time out, despite Ed Reed's protestations. Ihedigbo is not a captain, and therefore his signal is ignored.

In the NFL, any player on the field is allowed to call timeout.

Rule 4-5-1: The Referee shall suspend play while the ball is dead and declare a charged team timeout upon the request for a timeout by the head coach or any player to any official.

A.R. 4.16 [2011]: Just prior to the snap, entering substitute A12 steps onto the field in front of the Field Judge at the A40 and calls timeout.
Ruling: Legal. Charge Team A with a timeout. (A12 is on the field 'when the snap is imminent,' and therefore he is a legal substitute and eligible to call timeout.)

by JasonK :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 2:44pm

Yeah, as far as I know, there are no on-field rules that hinge on an official "captain" designation, beyond what the patch looks like and no more that 5 guys on the roster can wear one.

If a captain had any on-field powers, teams would be more strategic about who they give that title. (E.g., the Giants only have 3 captains-- Eli, Tuck, and DeOssie-- so there are a lot of plays when nobody on the field is wearing the patch.)

by Travis :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 2:59pm

Things captains do on-field in the NFL include:

- calling the coin toss (Rule 4-2-2)
- deciding whether to kickoff or receive or side of field to defend after the coin toss and at the beginning of the second half (4-2-2)
- deciding whether to accept or decline a penalty after hearing an explanation from the referee (14-4, 15-2-5)
- being told when his team is out of timeouts or when certain time marks are reached (15-2-4, 15-5-6)
- appealing on certain rules interpretations (15-2-5)
- calling for measurements (15-2-7)

Captains can be changed at any time during the game (18-1-4); if Tuck leaves the field, either Tuck, Coughlin, or the substitute can tell the referee who the new defensive captain is.

by Mike Kurtz :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 2:54pm

Good catch, this is what happens when you're juggling three codes!

by Travis :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 3:23pm

Understandable. The question then is why Mike Carey and the other officials ignored the timeout signal that Ihedigbo was making for 3-4 seconds.

by Mike Kurtz :: Wed, 10/17/2012 - 8:36pm

The two most likely theories are:

1. The deep wings were waiting to call the time out until the ball was uncovered; or

2. They saw Ed Reed shouting at Ihedigbo and decided to wait and see if he persisted.

Or maybe they just weren't paying attention. I think that's unlikely, though. Probably some combination of those two.

by bubqr :: Thu, 10/18/2012 - 7:30am

Mike/Travis - I never comment on those officiating extra points because I have nothing relevant to say, but I got to say that I love those. Easy/Quick to read, and enlightening.