Zebra Report: Roughing Passer Inconsistent

Occasionally FanHouse's resident referee will chime in with thoughts on major topics relating to officiating. We call it The Zebra Report.

The most difficult calls for an official are judgment calls. Unfortunately in football that covers pretty much everything. Rarely is there a call as easy as an upper deck home run or a ball going into a hoop. This is simply the nature of officiating football. One call which carries a ton of discretion is roughing the passer, and it has been controversial for years. As Bruce Ciskie said this past week on an email chain,

"(I've seen) defensive players rushing with their arms up to try to block a pass, grazing the QB's helmet with a hand on the way by, and drawing a flag for it. I mean, it's one thing to tell these guys they can't hit the QB, but to tell them they can't try to knock a ball down because they might touch the QB's helmet is just ridiculous."

I agree. Let's take a look at some plays from this past week.

Incident One: Panthers take back an interception, but it's called back by Ed Hochuli
The mainstream reporting on this was not surprising. Hochuli became everyone's scapegoat earlier this year, so the next time he makes "another controversial call," we have the big boys all spinning the story. The only problem was that it shouldn't have been controversial. Under the guidelines of the NFL, it is imperative these shots get called as roughing the passer. I can't say I like the over-protection of the QBs, but the league mandates it.

There's another layer I wanted to cover here. Sometimes the officials don't like the rule, but they are bound by the rules. In high school, sometimes we'll just tell a coach, "that's a bad rule, Coach. I'm sorry but my hands are tied." I doubt the NFL officials can do this, but you know damn well they think it from time to time. Hochuli himself has made a correct call before on a bad rule and suffered the undue criticism, so he's used to it.

Incident Two: Jags/Texans' game no-calls and roughing calls
This is more like three incidents rolled into one. Texans fans are understandably angry, because they got jobbed by an inconsistent level of discretion utilized by the referee. At three different points you have:

1. Matt Schaub gets levelled at the knees from behind after releasing a pass.
2. David Garrard gets taken down at the knees from the front after releasing a pass.
3. Matt Schaub get his ankles unnecessarily twisted several seconds after releasing a pass.

In my mind, none of these three should have been called. If anything, the last one could have been a personal foul for unnecessary roughness because there is simply no reason to continue twisting someone's legs when he doesn't even have the ball. The referee Sunday, though, chose to only call the second one. To me, the first one is worse because it was from behind. At least Garrard could have seen the hit coming.

On these incidents, though, the NFL really needs to make things clear to the officials on how to properly call things. If you really can't hit a quarterback below the waist at all once a pass is released, why wasn't Tom Brady's injury a roughing the passer call? I don't think it was, but I'm pointing out the inconsistencies ... and this game bore witness to both sides. Neither or both have to get called, as you can't just arbitrarily choose which to flag. (hat tip to Steph for the heads-up)

Incident Three: PacMan nearly beheaded

I can't find a video of this to post, but it's a blatant facemask of Adam "don't call me Pac-Man" Jones, which came with no call. There are seven officials, and -- as I said last week -- there should always be two sets of eyes on the ball. I have no idea how this should ever get missed. It's not acceptable.

Incident Four: Apparently missed FG counts
MDS covered this, and I can't believe it. There is an official under each upright. How can you possibly be looking straight up at the ball and count something when it's clearly wide? The only answer would be that someone isn't paying close enough attention to doing their job. This was the same crew that missed the above blatant facemask, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

Incident Five: Last week's offsides
Sean Payton complained, and he appears to be right. Check out this still picture via PFT. The defender on the left side of the line is clearly across the ball. Last week in response to a commenter about this very play, I said that I hadn't seen the play, but,

"There are two officials lined up directly on the line of scrimmage (the head linesman and the line judge). I really, sincerely doubt that two NFL officials on the line would look the other way if a defensive player was a yard and a half past the ball off-sides. Even the referee and umpire would notice that. I'm guessing the guy got off the ball really fast and it looked bad in fast motion on TV."

After viewing this picture, I'm compelled to admit that I couldn't have been more wrong. Look at the hashmarks. The ball is spotted on the 36 yard line and the defender is clearly standing with his front foot on the line and his head past it. That's off-sides every day of the week. Terrible error by the two side officials. I don't understand how that gets missed, especially by the line judge (he would be at the bottom here).

From the mailbag ... Incident Six: Hold, or no hold?

Do you have any thoughts on the penalty called on Heyer during the recent Redskins/Cardinals game? I'm a Redskins fan so I want to make sure I'm not biased in thinking it wasn't an earned penalty.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Thank you for the submission, Mike. I have been unable to track down any video of this particular play, so I'll just go over some basic guidelines for holding calls.

- Point of attack matters. If it's a running play, the "point of attack" is where the ball is headed. If you are only mildly holding and the offensive player isn't even close to the point of attack, it's likely to be ignored.

- Jersey can get grabbed, but the hands must be inside the shoulders. If a hand or an arm finds its way to the outside of the shoulders, you are at risk for a holding call.

- If the defender is trying to separate when the ball passes you, he better be able to ... meaning if I am trying to back away from you and turn around, and can't, this is obvious holding. The offensive player must know when to release his man.

- Turning a defender with only arms will get a call almost every time. If you turn a defender a way he doesn't want to be turned, you better have stronger legs and be driving him that way. If his body gets turned as a result of hands-only, you're probably gonna get nailed.

That's all we've got for this week. Feel free to submit questions to the mailbox and I'll post them and answer as best I can. Like I said last week, I don't get to see all the games, so video helps.

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