Interesting day at NFL officiating clinic. Biggest point of emphasis for 2014..Illegal contact and defensive holding. More offense!— Mike Pereira (@MikePereira) July 19, 2014
Last time the NFL had this as a major emphasis was 2004 and the number of illegal contact fouls went from 79 to 191.— Mike Pereira (@MikePereira) July 19, 2014
It's somewhat comical to read about an increased emphasis on a penalty that should, by definition, be objective.
This isn't much different than the local law enforcement planning a fundraiser by setting up patrols on 35 mph roads, looking to nail anyone driving 38 mph and above. Based on what former head of officials Mike Pereira tweeted, an increase of close to 300 percent is one helluva fundraiser.
The translation: Expect the pass offense-favorable teams to gain an even larger advantage in 2014. This shouldn't come as much of a surprise, considering the massive shift in both regulation within the game as well as the corresponding increase in passing attempts and overall statistics the last few years. It is somewhat eyebrow-raising, though, when the question shifts to "where does it end?"
The notion of "illegal contact" seems just gray enough to make it a much more subjective decision. That, in turn, raises questions as to what really is the end goal. There's all kinds of incidental contact between a receiver and a defender when moving down the field on a pass play. The line between incidental and illegal seems essentially impossible to determine in real time in any semblance of objectivity.
Is the league simply aiming to keep receivers free of any contact whatsoever? Jamming at the line of scrimmage is permitted within five yards, but that rule seems essentially broken all the time. It would seem, then, the coverage on 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree on San Francisco's final offensive play in Super Bowl XLVII should have been flagged, but officials made the subjective decision to "let them play."
On one hand, this may carry more benefit for the Steelers - a team with small receivers but a general lack of press coverage worked into their defensive game plan. They won't challenge the five-yard barrier all that often. Down the field, though, every team will be drawing more of these penalties, if it is as Pereira suggests.
Even worse, we will see more of an emphasis to draw these penalties - flopping, as it's referred to in other sports like soccer, basketball and hockey. That strategy doesn't fit well in other sports, and it's not going to be received well by NFL fans - unless, of course, it's their team gaining the advantage of the flop.
Consider me officially disgusted as soon as the latest wannabe sabrmetrician starts pulling cause-and-effect models of receivers who draw pass interference, defensive holding and illegal contact penalties. We'll see Ravens receivers becoming the Shane Battiers of the NFL.
It would appear the Heave 'n Pray will continue to remain a viable option for teams, particularly on third-and-long situations in neutral field situations. That, in turn, will lead teams to not fear minimal gains on first and second downs, knowing how much of an advantage teams will have on passes lobbed up with enough air to let receivers get under it and wait for defensive backs to make that subjective incidental contact.
It doesn't seem exactly in the spirit of the game itself, and we'll have to wait until the season begins to determine how much of this new emphasis will become a distracting part of the game. The Steelers dominated in 2004 by running the football, and if they were challenged in any way by that massive uptick in illegal contact and defensive holding penalties, it didn't seem like it.