Zebra Report: Simmer, 'Stealer' Haters

Posted Oct 28, 2009 9:00AM By Matt Snyder (RSS feed)
Filed Under: Steelers, Vikings, NFL Referees


Text SizeAAA

Zebra Report is FanHouse's analysis of actual NFL rules and how they are to be applied ... because most fans think they could do a better job than the NFL officials, yet definitely could not. Click here for an introduction as to how we do things.

Of all the complaints about officiating, I think the most maddening is how people who hate the Pittsburgh Steelers -- so, a really, really large contingent -- like to label them the "Stealers" and proclaim they always get the calls. This past weekend was a great example, as the Steelers took down the Vikings fair-and-square, but some people just can't seem to grasp the concept.

First of all, there are tons of complaints about the tripping call which negated a Vikings touchdown -- and was soon followed by a Steelers' defensive touchdown. Honestly, I'm not quite sure what the fuss is about. Tripping is defined as (Rule 3-40) "the use of the leg in obstructing any opponent." In rule 12-1-5, it clearly states that anyone can block an opponent as long as he's not tripping him. I keep seeing the word "phantom" used in conjunction with this call, but click here to watch the highlight (about the 2:20 mark) and keep the rule in mind. Try to be unbiased, consider the rule and see what you see.

I really hate it when people say something along the lines of "the officials should let the players decide the game." They did! If Jeff Dugan could have blocked his man successfully instead of diving at toward the opponent's lower-half and whipping his legs up, the Vikings would have scored a touchdown. Instead, he committed a penalty and got caught. No touchdown. A rule was broken and a price was paid. That's elementary.

Can anyone seriously make the argument that Dugan did not use his legs to obstruct the opponent he was trying to block? If so, please feel free to post your argument in the comments section. I would love to see it.

Speaking of Dugan, him plowing over the official during the kickoff return was neither funny nor acceptable. Look, the officials are part of the field and they take on a certain risk when being out on the field. In fact, umpires (the ones who line up in the vicinity of the inside linebackers and watch the line play) may start wearing helmets next season. Regardless of the risk and the fact that people are miffed with the guys from time to time, they are still human beings -- ones who aren't wearing pads like the players. If Dugan didn't see the official, man, he really should have. He appeared to be running toward him for several steps and his helmet was facing the official. If he did -- and it's very suspicious, considering he was just flagged for tripping four plays earlier -- then he should be suspended. To blatantly run over a guy with a clear motive is easily grounds for punishment. I'd like to believe Dugan was trying to find someone to block and accidentally plowed over Richard Reels (the back judge), but we'll never know for sure. They are both lucky Reels wasn't seriously injured.

In case anyone is curious, it is obviously illegal to contact an official intentionally during any part of the game, but there's no way to prove intent on this play, thus, they couldn't have called any sort of penalty on Dugan for the contact.

There was also a delay of game called on the Vikings defense. The common misconception among casual fans is that there is no such thing as delay of game other than when the play clock strikes zero. There are several other ways to get a delay of game penalty. Here they are (Rule 4-6-5, page 22):

Article 5 Other examples of action or inaction that are to be construed as delay of the game include, but are not limited to, the following:

(a) a player unnecessarily remains on a dead ball or on a runner who has been downed;

(b) the snapper repeatedly snaps the ball after the neutral zone is established and before the Referee can assume his position (see 7-3-3-c-2);

(c) undue delay by either team in assembling after a timeout;

(d) a defensive player aligned in a stationary position within one yard of the line of scrimmage makes quick and abrupt actions that are not a part of normal defensive player movement and are an obvious attempt to cause an offensive player(s) to foul
(false start). (The Referee shall blow his whistle immediately.);

(e) spiking or throwing the ball in the field of play after a down has ended, except after a score.

I haven't been able to find a replay or explanation on this one, but I've heard the Vikings were accused of violating (d) on the play in question, which is why I bolded it. The game log shows the penalty on Cedric Griffin, a cornerback, so maybe he was trying to get a wide receiver to flinch. The bottom line is that it's definitely possible to have delay of game called on the defense.

Finally, a collegiate note: the Pac-10 has suspended an official for not seeing one of the most blatant facemasks we ever will. I've often tried to educate the masses that each different official has different responsibilities on every individual play. Thus, in this case, every official would not have been looking at the receiver or had a good angle to see the facemask. How at least one person didn't see the helmet of the player catching a touchdown pass, though, is pretty egregious, which is obviously why the Pac-10 has taken action.

Easy week, as I didn't see much in my inbox other than plays from the Steelers-Vikings game. I guess that's the result of having so many blowouts.