Scramble for the Ball

Fantasy football, the Loser League, and general goofiness

Scramble for the Ball: Getting it Right?

by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz

Mike: It was a rough week for the NFL's instant replay system.

Tom: Any bone in particular you wish to pick? I think the NFL's replay system is actually pretty good, though I do think they could shorten some of these stoppages.

Mike: Well, this week was particularly bad because it had examples of all the ways the current challenge system has completely failed.

Tom: Like what, teams hurrying up to run a play before an opposing coach can challenge, and plays not reviewed that should have been?

Mike: That is one problem, but we'll get to that later. The major screw-up, of course, was the non-review of Cory Harkey's maybe-recovery of Tre Mason's fumble in the Rams-Seahawks game. It is absolutely understandable that call was incorrect live. There was a sudden scrum for an unpredictable fumble and within the space of a second Harkey had the ball and then suddenly didn't and then there was a massive pile. A lot of hay has been made that this particular type of play can be reviewed this year, much to NaVorro Bowman's chagrin, but the league office decided not to hit the buzzer.

Tom: OK, I'm not pleased with how the NFL handles fumble recoveries, but is that really a replay issue?

Mike: It's an issue with that most legalistic of concepts, the standard of review. A play cannot be overturned unless there is indisputable evidence that during the play it was clearly recovered by a player for either side.

Tom: But the standard of review is a fumble-specific one, so I see it as a "fumbles in the context of replay" issue rather than a replay issue per se. And the NFL's seeming declaration that this a specific type of play we want to handle in a certain way, unlike all those other plays.

Mike: Right, that is the problem. Richard Sherman pretty clearly had the ball at the bottom of the scrum after Harkey very clearly failed to secure possession. When calling a loose ball play live, the officials never kill the clock and figure out whether anyone clearly had indisputable possession. They start digging and whoever has it when they get to the bottom wins.

Tom: In a way, the way they're treating fumbles on replay is a declaration of bankruptcy, if you want to take the extreme point of view. The NFL is admitting "there may be cases in a pile where a player has what would generally constitute possession, but we're not going to recognize that as possession."

Mike: That is a terrible analogy. My problem is that the vagaries of replay have substantively changed how these sorts of fumbles are resolved.

Tom: Fine, they're going to say "whoever has the ball at the bottom of the pile wins" and we're not going to use things like replay to judge whether a player has control even though we're comfortable judging control with replay in every other context.

Mike: Absent replay, the play was dead and everyone just says Harkey gained possession. Or the official lets the play continue and the Seahawks get the ball back. With replay, we are left with neither result. We know Harkey didn't have possession. We also know that Sherman had the ball. But with this system we are told to ignore both of these actual outcomes and pretend that the opposite of each occurred.

Tom: How so?

Mike: The NFL VP of officiating has stated the ball was loose going into the pile.

Tom: Right, so the issue is the officials ruled the Rams recovered the ball in the pile.

Mike: No, it's more complicated than that, because there is no evidence that any Rams player actually had the ball at any time during the pile-up. If there was recovery by the Rams, the only player that could have possessed the ball was Harkey, who clearly did not.

Tom: Well, yes and no.

Mike: Because with that Tweet we can see that the league did not agree that Harkey recovered the ball, because it was loose going into the pile. But because of the rules regarding replay on fumbles, there is no review because, while that statement implies the ruling on the field was incorrect, the current system was explicitly barred from using replay to establish that the ball was loose, much less reach the actual just result, which would be something akin to replay establishing that the ball was loose and the action on the field establishing that the Seahawks had recovered. Instead we get the opposite of what actually happened, in significant part because of how the replay system is designed.

Tom: Designed to deal with fumbles.

Mike: It's an example of how the system creates iniquity.

Tom: On fumbles.

Mike: Who cares that it is limited only to fumbles? Fumbles might be strange and random plays, but they are also extremely important plays.

Tom: Blandino gave more information on NFL Network's Total Access (video link), in which he clarified that the ball was awarded to the Rams because the ruling on the field was they recovered the ball in the pile.

Mike: Which makes no sense, because there's no actual evidence the Rams recovered the football. Regarding the inability of the replay system to deal with this particular sort of play, Blandino's explanation for fumble is basically "because rules." That is terrible. Oh, and "we should have stopped the game to engage in meaningless review so people would feel better." Which, I think, really cuts to the heart of the instant replay system's existence not as a way to improve the action on the field, but a placebo to make fans feel better about the process.

Tom: Right, so the officials on the field ruled St. Louis recovered the ball in the pile. Which is a fascinating call, considering that's not what the available evidence, as bad as it may be, indicated, plus it's not like a Rams player emerged from the pile with the ball.

Mike: Exactly.

Tom: They had this rule, then they had an exception that made them look bad in the NFC championship game last year, so they changed the rule.

Mike: And as we just saw, the changed rule basically had no effect. So all it has done thus far is create controversy on an important play in a very important game.

Let's go back to your question about teams hurrying up to avoid a replay. That creates a significant advantage for the offense. If a questionable play goes the defense's way, then the offense, as masters of the play clock, can simply wait in formation until the coach either throws the flag or gives the go-ahead. If a questionable call benefits the offense, however, the defense's head coach is largely at the mercy of how quickly the offense can line up and snap.

Tom: Yes, but I think it's negated by the fact that both teams get to play offense and defense. It may be an advantage for a particular team in a given instance, but it's not an advantage more generally. And besides, the very fact that an offense is hurrying is itself information to the opposing head coach.

Mike: It is creating an advantage within the sample size of one game, and one game is incredibly important in the NFL. So rather than dismiss it by saying that the advantage evens out over the long term, why are we not asking why this system allows such an advantage to exist in the first place?

Tom: The complaint you could instead have made is that home video board operators will show big screen replays for the home head coach, but not for the visiting head coach. I'd say that's at least as big a deal, and it's one that is very rarely discussed.

Mike: Honestly I don't think the video board makes a huge difference. Both coaching staffs have their own feed and a mic straight to their staff. Sure, the Jumbotron is showing a big picture to the head coach so he can have his own opinion, but if he doesn't trust his staff to tell him when to throw the flag, why do they even have staff for review?

Tom: Video board operators, especially if they have angles other than the ones in the TV broadcast, can make a huge difference. And from the booth, you don't always get a good view of something in particular. Ken Whisenhunt challenged a fumble non-call on Sunday when it wasn't absolutely obvious from the TV copy Alfred Morris was touched down. If the video board operator had been able to show him the end zone shot, it would have been absolutely obvious, and he wouldn't have had to waste a challenge.

Mike: I wasn't aware the video operator had more cameras than the TV feed. I thought it was a pool.

Tom: He doesn't have more cameras, but he has the opportunity to show feeds other than the TV one. So he can show TV's end zone feed even if TV doesn't show it.

Mike: But doesn't the coaching staff have access to all the cameras rather than just the TV feed? I think that NCAA just has the TV feed, but there are no challenges in NCAA.

Tom: I don't believe so. I believe they're just watching the TV feed, like in the press box.

Mike: That is a really good question, actually.

Tom: I'm pretty sure they don't, or at least didn't, and I haven't heard specifically of them having non-TV angles.

Mike: Well, if the coaches don't, then sure, that is a huge problem.

Tom: If I'm right, there's definitely an advantage there for a home team and a disadvantage for a road team.

Mike: If they do, I don't see the big deal. So yes, if true that would be a massive advantage to the home team.

Tom: I think you're holding replay to an unrealistic standard. It can solve some obvious calls that are resulting in teams winning and losing. It can't solve everything, as much as we might want it to.

Mike: Right, but what exactly are we going for? What do we want out of instant replay?At the end of the day we have a system that sometimes works to fix the low-hanging fruit, often fails to correct obvious errors because of the standard of review, adds significant delay to almost every game, and has given rise to rules that actually give a noncompetitive advantage to one team or the other.

(The original version of this story inappropriately linked and provided a graph which gave the impression that replay review accounted for more time in an NFL broadcast than it does. The graphic and link were removed and I am sorry for the confusion. --Mike Kurtz)

And, as we just saw this week, replay can result in a nonsensical ruling that is not only reviewable by rule but unreviewable in practice, but has the VP of officiating going on the NFL's own show to say that they should have reviewed it not because the review had any chance of success, but because it was just something that you should do for important plays. So what exactly about this system, which has the potential to take up more of the viewers' time than the actual act of playing football, is working?

Tom: There are some bad on-field calls easily fixed by replay.

Mike: And the average rate of success for coach's challenges are basically a coin flip.

Tom: Maybe some of those are caused by replay, letting fumbles go because they know replay is around to fix it instead of making a more decisive call on the field.

Mike: Perhaps. But even then, the system itself has biased the game by giving an advantage to one team over another. Randomly distributed, perhaps, due to wherever the game is currently being played or who is on offense, but still a distinct advantage.

Tom: But it's an advantage for one team for half its games (less London?) and a disadvantage for the other half its games. Inequitable, but a balanced inequity, like winning the coin toss.

Mike: The coin toss is a necessary evil. It is also fairly random. This is not random, this is, again over a sample size of one game, giving a clear advantage to one team or the other.

Tom: Like winning the coin toss? In overtime, I mean, since I don't see the coin toss at the beginning of the game as a big deal.

Mike: Again, a coin toss to determine who gets the first option is necessary. You cannot start the game without some method of determining possession. Instant replay is not necessary. NFL football has been quite happily played without it.

Tom: And it's been almost 11 years since Michael David Smith proposed an alternative to the coin toss.

Mike: And if I recall, the team that won the coin toss in overtime even under the old rules did not win an overwhelming percentage of the games. Plus the recent rule changes dampen the effect even more.

Tom: The coin toss seemed to present an edge for roughly the first 20 years of overtime play. I believe over the last almost 20 years it did not.

Mike: Well, let's be honest. The only truly equitable means of determining initial possession is a scramble for the ball. The NFL is simply unwilling to pay the price for perfection.

Tom: Alas.

Mike: Replay, unfortunately, has no such perfect solution for the league to even reject. In fact, we haven't even figured out a halfway solution; the system is time-consuming, creates unacceptable advantages on the micro scale, and has spawned a constant and malingering controversy over not only the plays on the field, nor the rulings on the field, but also how replay treats those rulings. Marginal improvements in the accuracy of rulings does not counterbalance these real and serious problems. We are all better off without replay.

Lessons Learned

Tom: Well, Mike, what did you learn in Week 7?

Mike: Aside from the fact that I hate instant replay?

Tom: I thought you hated replay before now!

Mike: Curses, foiled by our artificial construct of recently acquired knowledge!

I suppose I learned that NFL locker rooms are bizarre and unpredictable places.

Tom: I assume you're referring to recent events in Chicago.

Mike: The Bears have always been a beacon of stability and sanity in what is in all seriousness an extremely wacky league. Lovie Smith was basically '50s dad, and teams with defense-first personas always tend to keep their heads down a little bit.

Tom: Tell that to Rex Ryan, or maybe the Baltimore Ravens, circa Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.

Mike: Perhaps it's because of some difference in mentality between offensive and defensive players, but I'm not really buying that. There are a bevy of diva defensive backs and problem child defensive ends. And yes, Rex Ryan is a thing.

Even when the focus in Chicago switched to the offense, things always seemed sedate. Brandon Marshall and Jay Cutler were besties, Matt Forte was the consummate professional and Alshon Jeffery was learning the ropes. Sure, Black Unicorn is kind of batty, but he's batty in a smart and sophisticated way.

Tom: Martellus Bennett is indeed great. But losing begets unhappiness, I think it's fair to say. And the Bears have won fewer regular season games at Soldier Field this calendar season than have the Blackhawks, which is my new favorite tidbit.

Mike: They were losing more than enough before this! And suffering from a far more acute case of Bad Jay Cutler in the past, to boot. So I was floored when I saw Marshall criticizing Cutler to the media. And then even more floored when Marc Trestman, Esq., was trying to paper the whole thing over. I was not surprised by Jay Cutler sitting in the corner doing his usual cat impersonation. But considering the culture that has reigned in Chicago for so long and seemed to be extending into the Trestman reign, to see such a public fracas between two players we have been, correctly or incorrectly, led to believe by the sports media are best friends is bizarre. And I'm starting to suspect that there has been more going on we just didn't hear about, both because of the team's relative success and because it would fly in the face of the narrative. And there is nothing that sportswriters love more than the current narrative.

Tom: You know what my favorite part of this is?

Mike: What is your favorite part, Tom?

Tom: The Dolphins scored 27 points in nine possessions, plus they missed two field goals. Yes, they had the benefit of some short fields. But they also started three possessions inside their own 20. Those three possessions in Bears territory: 10 points on a touchdown, a field goal, and a missed field goal. Those three possessions inside their 20: two touchdowns and a missed field goal. Yet everybody's talking about the offense!

Mike: It is completely bizarre, I agree. I think everyone has resigned to the fact that the Bears' defense is bad. But that isn't fatal in the NFL anymore!

Tom: They're 12th in DVOA. They played well the week before against the Falcons.

Mike: So in some perverse way they are expecting the Bears to be a great offense/terrible defense contender like Ye Olde Colts. When in fact, the defense isn't that bad, and the offense isn't that good. But the narrative is that this is a team that will win shootouts. And everyone loves their narratives. But I digress.

What this taught me, along with Percy Harvin: Secret Hidden Locker Room Cancer (unmasked only upon trading) is that nobody knows anything about the clubhouse for any of these teams. They might get glimpses, but glimpses are even worse because they're used to build absolute narratives about a team's personality and character. From now on I'm just going to ignore it all.

Tom: Like xkcd said.

Mike: Why do you hate me so?

Tom: I'm a Titans fan. I am now powered by hate. It's just a question of who Ken Whisenhunt tells me to hate. After the Browns loss, it was the refs for two technically correct calls. After the Washington loss, it was apparently the media's pessimism.

For my lesson, though, it's funny you bring up Ye Olde Colts. For two seasons, they've cruised to the playoffs thanks largely to playing a pathetic schedule in a pathetic division. We covered in the preseason how they had a poor roster outside of a couple key positions. They had no pass rush last year outside of Robert Mathis, suspended for the first four games and then lost for the year. Then the Colts became a really good team.

Mike: Waaaait a minute.

Tom: Andrew Luck has gone from a really talented quarterback who was putting up average numbers to a really good one.

Mike: Yes, the Colts moved from 13th in DVOA to 5th after this week. We should always be skeptical of huge jumps like that. Especially based on big victories over teams Mike Kurtz has cursed.

Tom: Luck leads the league in passing DYAR. Yes, that's because Peyton Manning has had his bye and Luck hasn't. But Luck is fourth in DVOA, not mid-teens like he was the past two seasons. His sack rate, middle of the pack as a rookie but pretty good last year, is now at a Peyton Manning-like 3.4 percent. Trent Richardson is still averaging 3.5 yards per carry, but the Colts aren't letting that be a millstone around their necks.

As I mentioned last week, they're running as much as they can without risking the game, unlike past seasons when they ran as much as they wanted to. Yes, the run game is still bad, but the passing game is great and they're letting it carry them. Yes, the Bengals game was their best defensive performance of the season. But it was the third time in four games they had a pass defense DVOA of -30.0% or better. This is not an Atlanta situation, where the defense has been bad six out of seven games and is being buoyed by a single outlier.

Mike: So your lesson is how you stopped worrying and learned to love the dudebro?

Tom: No, my lessons is in two parts. Number one, it's time to accept Andrew Luck has made the proverbial leap. Number two, the Colts are not just an average team with a record pumped up by a soft schedule. Instead, they're a serious contender for the second-best team in the AFC behind the Broncos, and not just by default.

Loser League Update

Full scores for your team and standings for this week and this season are available on the Loser League results page. Each week, Scramble highlights the lowest scorers at each position.

Quarterback: It was a bad day to be an Ohio quarterback. Brian Hoyer threw for more yards than did Andy Dalton, but also turned the ball over twice more. Both passers finished with 6 points.

Running back: The Lions are first in run defense DVOA, the Broncos second. The Ravens are "only" sixth, but Steven Jackson is playing behind an injury-riddled offensive line that may not have been that great even if fully healthy. Matching his 2 points were backs that faced those other two teams, Mark Ingram and Frank Gore.

Wide receiver: Having four receptions and failing to gain more than 10 yards is more common than you might think; Robert Woods was joined by Darren McFadden in that club this week. Doing that as a wide receiver, though? Woods appears to be the first since Bobby Engram back in 2000 (Dexter McCluster was a back in 2011). Throw in a fumble, and you have a league-leading -1. Jason Avant, Kenny Britt, and Alshon Jeffery got to 0 more conventionally, with two short receptions each.

Kicker: With the Bengals getting shut out, Mike Nugent wa… oh, wait, we had a negative score. Yes, in a result that seems designed to showcase the cruelty of Loser League, Matt Bryant ending up just short on a 57-yard field goal attempt and not being allowed to attempt another field goal left him at -1, the Loser League kicker of choice for the week.


Keep Chopping Wood: That whole replay discussion could have been completely obviated, if only Tre Mason had played smart situational football and gone done immediately after getting the game-clinching first down against the Seahawks instead of continuing to run and diving forward for extra yardage 9 yards downfield.

Mike Martz Award: What happens when a coach has a good idea for a trick, but the rules don't let the trick actually work? Trailing 10-6 early in the fourth quarter against the Jaguars, Mike Pettine's Browns faced a fourth-and-5 at the Jacksonville 43. In an attempt to confuse the Jaguars, Pettine first sent his punt team out, then put his offense back on the field and tried to run a quick play. Oh, but NFL rules do not permit such a thing. If the offense substitutes, the defense must be given a chance to substitute. That left the Cleveland offense with no choice but to stand there and wait and wait. By the time they were finally allowed to snap the play, Jacksonville's defense was set and easily stuffed the conversion. If you're going to go for it, do not be afraid to just line up and go for it.

Sad Trombone Locks of the Week

Mike: $^#$^&#$ lock. I have no idea what is wrong with me.

Tom: I picked the Bengals in my straight-up league, so don't feel too badly.

Mike: No, it's all me.

Tom: Or at least don't feel too alone in your wrongness.

Mike: I am cursing these teams. I keep talking them up and then destroying them.

Wait a minute...

who are the Patriots playing...

Tom: At least the Bills managed a win, though they did not cover. I am 2-4, while you are 1-5. As a reminder, odds are courtesy of Pinnacle Sports and were accurate as of time of writing. All picks are made without reference to the FO Premium picks.

Tom: There are some...interesting lines this week. One that stands out is those same Indianapolis Colts against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Colts are the better team, but the Steelers are at home. The actual line looks like DVOA's suggested line without home field advantage.

But I'm instead going to go in another direction. With a bye week and better health, I think Philadelphia should be an improved team. While Arizona is 5-1, to my consternation, they've looked pretty average in getting there. They're 15th in DAVE and DVOA. Philadelphia is better than them.

Mike: And the ghost of Mike Tanier rattles the chains.

Tom: The Cardinals are favored by 2.5. DVOA suggests a closer line. Maybe my vituperation at Arizona is getting the best of me, but I like that number. Philadelphia Eagles +2.5 at Arizona Cardinals.

Mike: I'm going to go against my clearly unworkable strategy of "pick teams that are clearly better than their opponents in the weeks previous" and do some reverse-bandwagonning. The Seahawks are an excellent team, despite their recent struggles, and Carolina...well, the Panthers played to a tie this year. That says everything about them. Maybe by hitching my wagon to a team that is currently out of favor with the betting public I can resurrect my season!

...OK, I can't even say that with a straight face. Seattle Seahawks -4.5 at Carolina Panthers.

Send your questions and concerns to! Note that by rule, some questions cannot be answered.


32 comments, Last at 24 Oct 2014, 12:29am

1 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Getting it Right?

by DEW // Oct 22, 2014 - 3:22pm

Do we actually have data on replay inequities? I mean, are home teams making more challenges total, getting more challenges right by percentage, leaving fewer challengable bad calls on the field, or the like?

And...honestly, I don't know what the big complaints are about the Rams/Seahawks fumble. The TV angles shown during the broadcast show that the last time the ball was seen before it disappeared into the pile, it was lying underneath Richard Sherman's thigh, which is not an act of possession. So ultimately the argument has to be:

(1) The officials that dove into the pile were clearly wrong about whatever it was that they saw in there that made them say "Rams ball"; and

(2) There is a video angle somewhere that shows that.

To me, the major problem surrounding that play is that while it was happening, nobody had any idea what was happening or what the officials on the field had actually called. (Boomer Esiason was ranting in the studio post-game about how the officials had called Mason down by contact and how stupid that was.) Other commentators seemed to think the officials had ruled that Harkey had had possession and was down when he fell on the ball, before it squirted out to end up in the pile. Others thought they'd ruled that the Rams had recovered the ball in the pile (which seems to be the case, according to this article). It's a lot easier to accuse the officials of screwing up when we're forced to guesstimate what it was they actually did, plus the whole point of "we have this video technology, and it's a game-changing play, so shouldn't we have a second look?" But that's not a "bad call" problem, it's a communication glitch between officials and fans.

What I'd like to see is someone that can point to a photograph or video that clearly shows that the Seahawks got screwed. Otherwise, there's a lot of noise in that play, but not much signal.

Login or Register to post comments

6 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Getting it Right?

by Travis // Oct 22, 2014 - 4:06pm

Boomer Esiason was ranting in the studio post-game about how the officials had called Mason down by contact and how stupid that was.

I think part of the confusion was that the ball was moved back to the spot of the fumble due to the Holy Roller rule, so it looked like the refs had ruled Mason down there.

Login or Register to post comments

9 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Getting it Right?

by Sporran // Oct 22, 2014 - 4:17pm

You wrote exactly what I was thinking.

Also, isn't the motto of this site "The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good"? Instant Replay isn't perfect, but eliminating the "low-hanging fruit" is a VERY good thing. I've also never understood the problems with "delaying the game" -- the delays aren't that long, and it just means some commercials get shown earlier than they were originally slated.

Login or Register to post comments

21 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Getting it Right?

by Jerry // Oct 22, 2014 - 8:18pm

Yeah. If officials can't look at replays, that just means they're the only people watching the game who can't. Some calls still aren't obvious after looking at replays, but that doesn't mean the league shouldn't fix the calls that are.

Login or Register to post comments

2 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Getting it Right?

by jtr // Oct 22, 2014 - 3:41pm

That Browns fourth-down trick is the second time this year they've tried a trick substitution that's not actually allowed, after their attempt to fake subbing Manziel off the field and then run a play to him. Pretty impressive in a Browns sort of way that they keep spending practice time on these kinds of things. The Manziel one is at least a pretty subtle rule, though it's still inexcusable to not send an intern digging in the rule book to check the legality of a particularly unusual fake play. The more recent one is totally head-scratching; the first thing anybody learns about substitutions is that when the offense substitutes, they have to allow the defense to as well.

Login or Register to post comments

3 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Getting it Right?

by DEW // Oct 22, 2014 - 3:47pm

Yeah, considering that that is the entire principle behind which the fast-paced no-huddle offenses of today run, by not subbing and getting to the line quickly they keep the defense from getting fresh bodies onto the field. But then, their HC did come over from the Bills, so there's some kind of Great Lakes Axis of Futility going on there.

Login or Register to post comments

7 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Getting it Right?

by jtr // Oct 22, 2014 - 4:07pm

Plus, Pettine coached with the Rex Ryan Jets, the masters of strange and counterproductive offensive decisions.

Login or Register to post comments

18 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Getting it Right?

by Theo // Oct 22, 2014 - 6:43pm

this is the Browns we're talking about, they surprise us with stupidity year in year out

Login or Register to post comments

4 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Getting it Right?

by Travis // Oct 22, 2014 - 4:00pm

I think that NCAA just has the TV feed, but there are no challenges in NCAA.

The NCAA has coaches' challenges, it's just that they're very rarely used since all plays are already subject to auto-review.

Login or Register to post comments

5 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Getting it Right?

by Tim F. // Oct 22, 2014 - 4:02pm

I don't see much controversy to the Sea-StL fumble beyond the bad call that St. Louis recovered it in the scrum. Yes, we can look at a replay and say: it looks like there is a 99.9% chance that Sherman recovers it but there is clearly not indisputable proof that he did do so. And that's the clearest, most consistent, most appropriate rule to replay.

I don't see any logic to saying that because replay can't correct all plays that it is profoundly flawed.

Of course, as I mentioned in another post, Miami got burned on a very similar call back in 2010 (even though there was no precise video confirmation, it was even less controversial that there was a 99.99999% chance that Miami recovered — 3 Fins on the ball before any Steelers got close, Francis actually quickly emerged from the pile with the ball without needing to peel back the pile, etc... and there was even some officials on the field calling it that way). For me, that call in 2010 established the precedent and this call was consistent with it. Yeah, I felt burned by it as a fan of the Dolphins, but it seems perfectly logical and consistent.

Login or Register to post comments

10 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Getting it Right?

by LyleNM // Oct 22, 2014 - 4:57pm

The controversy isn't really about what the final ruling was, though. The controversy is that this was probably a play that needed an actual booth review. With the "booth" (i.e., New York) deciding in less than the time to take the next snap that it wasn't necessary to review, that's where people are justifiably concerned about the process.

Login or Register to post comments

11 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Getting it Right?

by Tim F. // Oct 22, 2014 - 5:32pm

I'm not seeing the difference but wasn't watching the game that closely. Maybe I am getting details wrong. I thought there was a review. Was there no review whatsoever? I thought there was but maybe I just saw the follow-up that even if there had been a review it wouldn't have been overruled. If that's the case, I'm still not seeing the difference. If the review wouldn't have changed the play, why is it such an imperative and controversy that the review should have been made? Seems like an irrelevance to me if it doesn't change the consequence. Slightly sloppy but not a major condemnation of the entire review policy.

If that is the case, it basically adds a nuance to reviewing a change of possession that I was overlooking. If the rule on the field is that there wasn't a change of possession, there is no automatic review and it's up to the coach to challenge it (if they have any challenges remaining). Again, just because that is nuanced, doesn't make it profoundly flawed.

Basically, if I misunderstood, people are suggesting that a potential change of possession should also be an automatic review as in the case of when a change of possession is ruled... but since the odds of there ever being indisputable visual evidence of a potential change of possession approach zero, why shouldn't it remain a coach challenge vs. an automatic review?

If the case is that, there was an automatic review but people are angry with how quickly it occurred, I think they are simply wrong and that it was quick and easy to determine that review wouldn't overrule the call on the field.

(In the case above with the Dolphins, I believe this was pre-automatic review and they had to challenge it themselves so there was less nuance.)

Again, it seems to me, that this is a case of: there cannot be a perfectly officiated game but because it was a critical play for a significant team with a strong following, people are getting their panties in a bunch even though there is no way to eliminate every bad call ever.

Login or Register to post comments

12 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Getting it Right?

by Tim F. // Oct 22, 2014 - 5:48pm

I just read a little bit of Blandino's explanation so I guess there was no automatic booth review. I don't have a problem with that. Automatic review is initiated when a turnover is ruled, not when a turnover may have happened. That's the rule, or at least as I understand it at the moment. If the rule isn't dependent on change of possession being called, then it's a minor controversy that wouldn't have been changed in either case.

I actually find it more controversial that Blandino wishes they had kicked in an automatic review just for the clarity of going to the video and then saying there was no video evidence to incontrovertibly change the call. That's making up rules on the spot which don't exist just to avoid digressions like this.

Login or Register to post comments

13 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Getting it Right?

by LyleNM // Oct 22, 2014 - 5:59pm

It was inside of two minutes. Only booth reviews.

(edit) And no, that's not making up rules on the spot then. The point is to make sure the calls are right in the last two minutes, most especially on potential game-changing plays.

Login or Register to post comments

14 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Getting it Right?

by Tim F. // Oct 22, 2014 - 6:01pm

Argh... more reading and a few things I had forgotten/overlooked (final 2 minutes, etc) that change my position.

It looks like the review should kick in for fumbles that may result in a change of possession. So it is somewhat bad form that they didn't review for clarity because they could have, but —again— since the review wouldn't have changed the call and the officials were likely considering that (but certainly wouldn't have known that with 100% certainty), I still don't find it a major controversy.

To me, it did seem they were moving very quickly hoping to have an exciting upset and/or karmic payback for the Tate call... But that seems more of an issue of the human flaws of officiating rather than a fundamental flaw of the replay rules.

Again, I don't think this call remotely approaches the controversy of that Golden Tate call and review.

Login or Register to post comments

15 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Getting it Right?

by LyleNM // Oct 22, 2014 - 6:08pm

If you think reviews should only be made when plays get overturned, then you have a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of reviews.

Login or Register to post comments

16 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Getting it Right?

by Tim F. // Oct 22, 2014 - 6:32pm

I'm not even sure what "reviews should only be made when plays get overturned" would mean (I'm thinking you're thinking reviews as NYC officiating reviews? I dunno...) so NO that's not what I think. That's not what I'm remotely saying.

As I said, I wasn't watching the game that closely, it went so quick, and I didn't find it all that controversial, so I missed some of the exact details of what transpired and was just foolishly forgetting some of the system myself. (I was forgetting it was in the final two minutes and was thinking in terms of auto review of scoring plays — I was thinking that changes of possessions are automatically reviewed but not necessarily *potential* changes of possession... I haven't checked if that is the case or not since it is irrelevant since it was in the final two minutes and review changes this year cover fumbles that could lead to a possession change rather than a call of a possession change.)

All that being said: I don't find it remotely controversial. Yes, it would have been better to stop and make the review. But neither the review or consulting with NYC would have changed the result. I do apologize for being misinformed and somewhat confused, but now that I'm fully up to speed I see absolutely no need for gnashing of teeth or claims that replay is fundamentally flawed, whether in general or in specific cases such as this one.

Login or Register to post comments

31 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Getting it Right?

by Sisyphus // Oct 23, 2014 - 5:28pm

I think that reviewing fumbles where there is a pile up like that is counter productive from several angles. There are things going on under that mass of humanity that are not only not within league rules but also felonies. The guy who comes out of that with the football is typically just the most successful criminal in the group. Officials should just make their best guess and move on once the ball totally disappears from view and call it immediately. Doing otherwise wastes time and promotes creating alarming large male sopranos.

Login or Register to post comments

32 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Getting it Right?

by LionInAZ // Oct 24, 2014 - 12:29am

That is exactly why the plays should be reviewed!

Login or Register to post comments

8 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Getting it Right?

by Steve in WI // Oct 22, 2014 - 4:15pm

Where did Marshall openly criticize Cutler to the media? From what I understand, the only thing he said to the media that could possibly be construed as criticizing Cutler was when he listed a few players and called them talented (and Cutler wasn't on that list, maybe for no reason at all). When he allegedly yelled at Cutler (I'm not sure that it has been proven even by those who overheard the outburst that he definitely yelled *at* Cutler), it was behind closed doors, albeit in a situation where the media was able to overhear.

Login or Register to post comments

19 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Getting it Right?

by Tim F. // Oct 22, 2014 - 6:49pm

It's sad how the media makes up their own stories these days and people run with it. (As a Dolphin fan, I've been through it numerous times before — most recently with the supposed Philbin threatening to bench Tannehill mini-controversy.) Without being there, I imagine that Marshall did call out Cutler specifically or specifically got in his face while speaking generally but I'm certain that Cutler wasn't his sole or primary target. That being said, it seems like Marshall and Cutler are still cool and that the team took it positively, as motivation.

What I find troubling is that Marshall appears to be the sole, vocal leader on the team, including the coach, QB, and defense (that performed much worse than the offense). But I concede I don't know what's going on in that locker room and wouldn't want to presume.

Login or Register to post comments

25 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Getting it Right?

by Steve in WI // Oct 23, 2014 - 10:37am

Oh, I do believe that Marshall likely got in Cutler's face in the locker room. I'm just saying that a) I haven't heard any quotes from the media who were there indicating what exactly was said, and b) whatever was said, it was said in the context of the locker room and not directly to the media. To hear certain people in Chicago talk about it, you'd think Marshall called a press conference to announce that Jay Cutler sucks.

I agree that there's a troubling lack of leadership on the team; what annoys me is that a lot of people want to attack Marshall for trying to lead. Some of the stuff that's been said in Chicago is outrageous. (One radio host said something to the effect of, this is why he's been traded off of two teams already. Which is ridiculous because his previous issues were off-the-field legal/mental health issues that he apparently has under control now).

Login or Register to post comments

17 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Getting it Right?

by Tim F. // Oct 22, 2014 - 6:39pm

"Lovie Smith was basically '50s dad'"

'50s dad' looked good on a Norman Rockwell painting but was usually an alcoholic, philandering, wife- and child-beater, no?

Login or Register to post comments

24 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Getting it Right?

by justanothersteve // Oct 22, 2014 - 10:39pm

Rockwell couldn't paint African-American men except for the occasional service person in the 50's because the Saturday Evening Post wouldn't allow it. When he left in the early 60's, he showed a far more political side especially with his support of civil rights issues.

Login or Register to post comments

20 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Getting it Right?

by Kevin from Philly // Oct 22, 2014 - 7:42pm

"Tom: The Cardinals are favored by 2.5. DVOA suggests a closer line. Maybe my vituperation at Arizona is getting the best of me, but I like that number. Philadelphia Eagles +2.5 at Arizona Cardinals."

I haven't been this angry to see someone pick my team to win since Pete Axehelm died.

Login or Register to post comments

22 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Getting it Right?

by The Hypno-Toad // Oct 22, 2014 - 8:27pm

I was not surprised by Jay Cutler sitting in the corner doing his usual cat impersonation.

Yep, that's it. That's exactly the description that the world has been searching for. Thank you.

Login or Register to post comments

23 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Getting it Right?

by Bionicman // Oct 22, 2014 - 8:59pm

Mike Kurtz's argument is the dumbest thing I've ever read on this site. The worst part is the utterly baseless statement that the improvements of replay are 'marginal.' Just in the Texans-Steelers game, replay turned a tackle into a lost fumble directly leading to the go-ahead score, and overturned a Texans fumble recovery when it was blatantly obvious that the Steelers player was down. Think that might have made a difference? There's plenty of utterly unfounded kvetching about how the rules favor the home team; in reality, as the the book 'Scorecasting' pointed out, replay has led to less home field advantage, due to bad calls being overturned. Then there's the laughable 'takes time' argument, when there's an average of less than two replays a game, including ones initiated by the booth. One commercial break takes more time than replay in almost all games. Top it off with ridiculous loaded language, like how replay only "sometimes works to fix the low-hanging fruit" (because when a blatantly wrong turnover decision is made and replay quickly fixes it, that's just 'low hanging fruit') and apparently putting a misleading graph to support his point. I've never read anything by Mike Kurtz before, and now know better than to waste my time with his idiotic rambling.

Login or Register to post comments

26 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Getting it Right?

by furtigan // Oct 23, 2014 - 10:39am

Mike Kurtz's argument is the dumbest thing I've ever read on this site.

Need to spend more time in the comments.

Login or Register to post comments

28 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Getting it Right?

by Noah Arkadia // Oct 23, 2014 - 11:00am

Jesus, what a way to make a mess of a simple thing. It's like treating arithmetic like it's nuclear physics and concluding that it's both incomprehensible and dangerous.

Who, me?

Login or Register to post comments

27 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Getting it Right?

by RickD // Oct 23, 2014 - 10:56am

" that they should have reviewed it not because the review had any chance of success, but because it was just something that you should do for important plays. "'

How are the officials supposed to know whether the review is going to be successful or not if they don't actually do it? The review in this case was doomed to be inconclusive, but the officials could only know that after looking at the video.

The real issue here, it seems (I haven't watched any of the video) is that the ruling on the field was wrong. And then, given the inconclusive video, the rules say that the ruling on the field is going to be used as the default. (Whether that's appropriate or not is a separate issue.) But even with that in mind, the officials should have used replay review here, since it clearly was an important call.

Login or Register to post comments

29 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Getting it Right?

by Ryan // Oct 23, 2014 - 1:09pm

Andrew Luck is NOT a dudebro!!!

Login or Register to post comments

30 Re: Scramble for the Ball: Getting it Right?

by Bad Doctor // Oct 23, 2014 - 1:55pm

In a way, the way they're treating fumbles on replay is a declaration of bankruptcy, if you want to take the extreme point of view. The NFL is admitting "there may be cases in a pile where a player has what would generally constitute possession, but we're not going to recognize that as possession."

Perhaps a poor analogy, but Tom hits on the issue exactly right. For a better analogy, maybe think how MLB struggled to implement replay this year vis-à-vis the "neighborhood play" -- having to confront that evidence will show that a play does not result in an out by the letter of the law, but that baseball has for years decided that it is desirable to enforce a play in a manner not reflected in the rulebook.

Fumble recoveries would make for awful replays -- not because, as Mike says, "there is no evidence that any Rams player actually had the ball at any time during the pile-up," but because on many fumbles, there probably will be video evidence that one or more players on each team actually had the ball (by the letter of the law -- control of the ball, on the ground, touched down by an opponent) at any time during the pile-up. Hence, the NFL has long adopted the rule that Tom mentions above -- "whoever has the ball at the bottom of the pile [once the refs peel off the players on top of the scrum] wins." I used to hate that rule, but it certainly provides a clear black letter of the law rule (even if unwritten). Making fumble recoveries reviewable would lead to judgment calls on "down with possession" that will make the Calvin Johnson rule seem black-and-white in comparison.

The problem isn't that the officiating crew didn't review a fumble recovery ... they've never done that. The problem is that the officiating crew ruled on a fumble recovery mid-scrum, which is something I cannot remember ever seeing done before (or even attempted to be done before).

Login or Register to post comments