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February 24, 2006
Or is it: Mike's got the trots?
Filed in: Current Affairs, Sports, Super Bowl XL

Prerequisite. This is the second in a multi-part series on the NFL's defense of the poor officiating in Super Bowl XL.

Now we move on to what is one of the most controversial non-calls in Super Bowl XL.

This is the way that the NFL discussed it on the self-produced NFL Total Access Official Review:

Interviewer:

Mike:

That's right, nothing was said about it at all. Not in the interview, not in the clips. Not discussed.

What am I talking about? I've already discussed this to some extent here.

What is it? It's the long Steeler's pass play to Hines Ward in the second quarter that set up the touchdown by Roethlisberger.

Some commenters have been blasting my posts here in reference to this non-call because 1) I didn't show enough still frames to demonstrate the infraction, 2) There is colloquial leeway in the call that allows for imprecision in the call, or 3) I don't know the rules. Hopefully this post will meet the sufficiency tests, though I suspect that, despite absolute proof, some people are incapable of altering their views.

Here we go.

Ineligiblestart

This is the beginning of the play. The line of scrimmage is just about exactly the 40 yard line. Maybe a little over.

Ineligible1

Here we are near the end of Roethlisberger's scramble. Max Starks is more than one yard beyond the line of scrimmage. He's not engaged with a defensive player - nor is he within this sequence.

Ineligible2

I'm not going to show every frame - maybe every couple of frames - Ben's looking, Max continues forward.

Ineligible3

Max begins to realize that he is beyond the line.

Ineligible4

And slows down.

Ineligible5

And stops.

Ineligible6

And begins to back up - because Ben might throw the ball rather than run.

Ineligible7

He's watching Ben as he drifts back.

Ineligible8

And Ben begins to throw.

Ineligible9

This is the actual moment of the release of the pass by Roethlesberger. Max is clearly one yard beyond the line of scrimmage. Number 73, Kendall Simmons is technically beyond the line of scrimmage. Number 66, Alan Faneca is about one shoe lenght distance beyond the line of scrimmage. Max Starks' reaction to his position on the field is telling: Max knows what the rules are.

There are several different views about the nature of this infraction. For the most part these various views fall into two categories: position and precision.

Around many of the sports sites that I have frequented recently and within the comments on this site, there are many opinions that the line of scrimmage is not the line that determines whether an ineligible receiver is down field or not. Some have confused the penalty distance for the calculation of position of the infraction. Some have a rather grand description of the determination - whether the blocker is engages with a defensive players, is deceiving the defense - the sort of thing that the NFL rule book calls exceptions.

Here's what the NFL rule book says about ineligible receivers:

5. The rules concerning a forward pass and ineligible receivers:

(a) If ball is touched accidentally by an ineligible receiver on or behind his line: loss of five yards.

(b) If ineligible receiver is illegally downfield: loss of five yards.

(c) If touched or caught (intentionally or accidentally) by ineligible receiver beyond the line: loss of 5 yards.

Note that there is not an exception clause. An example of exception clauses in the NFL rule book is (under use of hands and arms by a defensive player):

4. A defensive player may not tackle or hold an opponent other than a runner. Otherwise, he may use his hands, arms, or body only:

(a) To defend or protect himself against an obstructing opponent.

Exception: An eligible receiver is considered to be an obstructing opponent ONLY to a point five yards beyond the line of scrimmage unless the player who receives the snap clearly demonstrates no further intention to pass the ball. Within this five-yard zone, a defensive player may chuck an eligible player in front of him. A defensive player is allowed to maintain continuous and unbroken contact within the five-yard zone until a point when the receiver is even with the defender. The defensive player cannot use his hands or arms to push from behind, hang onto, or encircle an eligible receiver in a manner that restricts movement as the play develops. Beyond this five-yard limitation, a defender may use his hands or arms ONLY to defend or protect himself against impending contact caused by a receiver. In such reaction, the defender may not contact a receiver who attempts to take a path to evade him.

(b) To push or pull opponent out of the way on line of scrimmage.

(c) In actual attempt to get at or tackle runner.

(d) To push or pull opponent out of the way in a legal attempt to recover a loose ball.

(e) During a legal block on an opponent who is not an eligible pass receiver.

(f) When legally blocking an eligible pass receiver above the waist.

That particular exception is one of the longest that I've seen in the rule book - there's no exception of any kind in the rule book regarding the determination of whether an ineligible receiver is illegally downfield.

Just to sufficiently analyze the rule, let's discuss it for a moment. The rule book contemplates three states that an ineligible receiver might be in. 1) Touching or catching the ball behind the line of scrimmage. 2) Being (i.e. having no contact with the ball) beyond the line of scrimmage on a pass play (in the penalty definition this appears to mean at any point during the passing down - not at the instant of the pass). 3) Touching or catching the ball beyond the line of scrimmage. The rules do not describe any exception - the line of scrimmage determines the infraction in any of the states.

Now you might like the rule to be different and you might have the view that this call is discretionary or has some other parameters that determine it - but it's pretty clear what the rule is. But perhaps that brings up the concept of precision for this call.

I made a point in my previous post on the NFL's defense of poor officiating in Super Bowl XL that the most important issue about Pereire's discussion of the Jackson call was his concept of precision. His (erroneous in my view) explanation of why Hope could maul Jackson downfield had to do with the rules that define the pocket area. His expectation of precision for the players and officials on any pass play about the pocket area (that is not defined by any line on the field, or marker, or any signal by any official) that the precision must be about a foot.

Mike2_1

Mike4precision

I drew the line on this lower frame - exactly where Mike drew it for the example prior to showing the play (he didn't quite have the chutzpah to show his line and Hasselback in the same frame).

This example and these statements by the director of officiating for the NFL weren't made years ago - this was just last week. It is reasonable to conclude that his expectation for players and officials in terms of precision for the determination of the position of an infraction or on field definition is extremely precise.

So precise, that we can conclude with reasonable certainty that Mike Pereire would conclude that there are three ineligible receivers downfield on this play.

Not calling this infraction is an officiating error - and because of the result of the play very likely had a decided impact on the outcome of the game.

Interestingly, there's more. NFL Films has released a 'Super Bowl XL' thirty minute show that has been aired on ESPN and ESPN2 in the last couple of weeks.

Benrelease1_1

This is the view that is presented in the NFL FIlms presentation of Super Bowl XL. It's zoomed in from the broadcast view of the play - it looks to me like this shot was taken a little higher than the broadcast view. There is not a single frame in the NFL Films presentation that shows the lineman beyond the line of scrimmage. NOTE: Click on the above image for a video segment that is the complete treatment of this play from NFL Films (requires MS media player).

Seahawks_steelers_highlight_300k__rmr__1_17

This is the broadcast view of the play - included here again for reference.

Benrelease2_1

They showed the play twice in the NFL Films presentation - both times just showing the left part of the field for the duration of the play.

What can we conclude from this? It is reasonable to conclude that the NFL knows that there is an officiating error during this play that likely affected the outcome of the game and they don't want to draw any attention to it. Why else zoom in on the broadcast view? It's the big bodies in the way.



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As far as your 'NFL films cover-up'. I wouldn't interpret a more interesting camera angle as any kind of cover-up. They always show field level shots and views that you never get during the broadcast. You have to admit that the field level shot gives a better perspective of the Roethlisberger scramble.

As far as the 'cropped' or 'zoomed in' shot you mention - I haven't seen the NFL films version yet, so I can't say for certain as to whether or not that's true. Looking at the .wmv file you uploaded unfortunately didn't help in determining whether or not that camera feed was actually cropped as opposed to another camera (which NFL films has almost everywhere).

I don't think you've proved the existence of any kind of cover up.

But to the real issue - ineligible man downfield. Technically, you have a case. Unfortunately, in the pics you've posted, you can clearly see that there are no officials looking at the ineligible man. (if no one sees it, it doesn't make it right, but it does mean that they cannot call it) He is barely over a yard beyond the LOS (which is technically illegal, but within a 'buffer zone' that is usually allowed - 1-2 yards at most. Additionally, he is essentially out of the play. In the still you show, the play has clearly developed to the left side of the field. Officials do have certain guidelines on judgement calls to only call infractions that affect the play.

Once again, you seem to be focusing on the calls/non-calls of the big plays that negatively impacted the Seahawks. I'm not yet convinced of an objective mindset.


EMCEE: Lonnie, you are claiming discretion and the head of officiating for the NFL expects precision. It's the big plays that are important Lonnie. There are only two big plays that don't have blatant mis-calls or non-calls. There may be others. I'm demonstrating that poor officiating affected the outcome of the game - and it's big plays that demonstrate that most.

This particular play is the only one in this NFL Films presentation that does not include a full field shot (aka broadcast) well. You can also see in the video clip I supplied a quick cut mid-scene to avoid showing the ineligibles.

The line judge out of site down the picture should have made this particular call - he could clearly see it.

Posted by: Lonnie F. - Nashville, TN at Feb 24, 2006 6:40:38 AM

Are you saying that proper officiating isn't important if the play is not big? I guess I misunderstood you. Maybe I still don't.

Good luck with this project. This will be my last visit for quite a while. I'll check back in several months when you've finally had time to examine every play (big and small) with the officiating precision you're expecting from the NFL.

EMCEE: Of course I'm not saying that proper officiating is only required on the big plays - I'm saying the officiating errors on the big plays in this game most likely altered the outcome. That's what I'm saying. Did you not get the officiating precision required by the head of officiating? Did you read/watch any of that?



Posted by: Lonnie F. at Feb 25, 2006 8:17:28 AM

The Linesman is watching his key. He is not expected to see what you claim. That would be the U.He could by chance,but not by design as you claim.

Posted by: at Feb 25, 2006 3:40:55 PM

Ther is indeed discretion on what to call or not. On a kickoff, if a player on the kicking team has part of his body slightly acoross the plane, he will most likely be given a pass since on a deep kick, the advantage/disadvantage is basically non-existant. The play stands, and the flow of the game continues. The same body part by the same distance may very well, and indeed most likely draw a flag on an onside kick. The advantage/ diadvantage is magified because of the type of kick. Same rule, but different application.
The White Hat has much lattitude on fouls as well. He can overrule flags, put time on the clock, take time on the clock etc if he deems approrpriate. He is the King on the field, and what he says goes.

Posted by: at Feb 25, 2006 4:06:06 PM

There is no question that #73 and #66 are legal.

EMCEE: Instead of stating your opinion on these matters - I need you to quote the NFL rule book. Chapter and verse, where are the exceptions? Don't tell me what you think. Tell me what the book says.

Posted by: at Feb 26, 2006 1:02:26 AM

I have a VHS tape of the game if you are interested.

Posted by: Mike at Feb 26, 2006 3:52:43 PM

It doesn't do much for your case to print a rule about ineligibles, if you have not defined what it is that makes one ineligible. The comment near the top of this page suggesting that you do not know the rules, seems to be on the money. You should drop this play, and be thankful that only 4-6 people have seen it, as it is a loser for your quest.

EMCEE: The rule defines clearly what ineligibility is. It's only those like you who want there to be something else that claim there is lack of definition. Everything that is discussed in the rule is around the line of scrimmage. No exceptions are given in the rule. I printed the rule. You don't like it - take it up with the NFL.

Posted by: at Feb 27, 2006 3:43:44 AM

In addition, you seem to have little or no regard for the concept of advantage/disadvantage, and how crucial it is in the decision on whether to throw or keep the flag in your pocket.

EMCEE: You need only to look at the NFL director of officiating's point of view of enforcement and precision in the very clip we are examining to understand the kind of regard HE has.

Posted by: at Feb 27, 2006 3:50:09 AM

The official has his back to the linemen. He's watching Ben to see if he crosses the line of scrimmage before passing. You seem to ignore that part. Maybe we need to hire officials with eyes on the backs of their heads?

Also, the Seahawks were guilty of this infraction several times (one blatant one was on a screen pass, where this is most often called, at around 7:40 in the first quarter). They weren't called. Since you have the digital version on your computer and mine is on TiVo, why not upload those images to be fair?

Posted by: Eric B. at Feb 27, 2006 10:29:23 PM

The official has his back to the linemen. He's watching Ben to see if he crosses the line of scrimmage before passing. You seem to ignore that part. Maybe we need to hire officials with eyes on the backs of their heads?

Also, the Seahawks were guilty of this infraction several times (one blatant one was on a screen pass, where this is most often called, at around 7:40 in the first quarter). They weren't called. Since you have the digital version on your computer and mine is on TiVo, why not upload those images to be fair?

Posted by: Eric B. at Feb 27, 2006 10:30:26 PM

Section b of your quoted rule states that "if ineligible reciever is illegally downfield". It does not say downfield, but illegally downfield which in and of itself suggests that an OL can be legally beyond the LOs (correct). There is in no way,shape or form a definition of what costitutes ineligible downfield. It is simply not there.
According to the rule you quote, how far beyond the LOS does a lineman need to be, to become ineligible downfield? What effect does contact behind the LOS that carries over the LOS have on the determination of ineligibility downfield? Your quoted rule does not address this definition. It only deals with what is to occur, after the criteria of ineligible downfield has been met. You have the wrong rule (still).
You should also quit looking at that rules digest as well.

Posted by: at Feb 28, 2006 12:17:22 AM

The above was from Bruce in Federal Way, WA. I keep forgetting to ID myself.

Posted by: at Feb 28, 2006 12:20:16 AM

Normally, Illegally down field is for forward passes BEYOND the line of scrimmage. If the Pass is beyond the line of scrimmage, and a lineman is already beyond it, he is illegally down field. In the case of a screen pass, the pass is not beyond the line of scrimmage, there for a lineman can be down field without being illegally down field.

Posted by: Bruce at Mar 5, 2006 9:29:09 PM

Two problems with your over analysis of this play.

1)Section 5b states "If ineligible receiver is illegally downfield: loss of five yards."

No where in that quote does it say LINE OF SCRIMMAGE. But that doesnt stop you from inserting LINE OF SCRIMMAGE into your analysis to prove your point. Rules 5a and 5c reference the line, but they do not apply in this situation. The rule that does, simply says "illegally downfield."

A while back, I tried to research this as best I could, but only found 1 article. In it a retired ref said that a player needs to be MORE than 1yd PAST the LOS when the ball is thrown to be considered "illegally downfield." That would mean Starks would have to be INSIDE the 39 (to the right of it) when the ball is thrown. Look at your last pic. If he is inside the 39, its gotta be by mere inches.

2)The ref closest to the play has his back toward Starks. Unless he has eyes in the back of his head, he cant see Starks. Another ref is facing Starks, but is five yds downfield and has a bad angle. Again were are talking about a foot or less.

You need to seek professional help to deal with your addiction. Its pathetic.

Posted by: Quit Crying. Seattle lost! at Mar 31, 2006 6:47:45 PM

Hey there. I was just checking back to see how your officiating analysis project was going. It seems as though you've given up or moved on.

Good luck next year.

Posted by: Lonnie F. at May 20, 2006 7:38:33 AM

Try buying a real NFL RULE BOOK.... The interior five are not ruled as an ineligible man down field until they move five yards past the LOS... This is a very basic NFL rule, day one type shit if you have ever played a down, lmao.

Posted by: You're fucking stupid at Jul 27, 2006 10:42:25 AM

Where you at now bitch. Not only did the Steelers Own the cryhawks but they dominated the fuck out of them. With out Ward, Holmes, Polamalu, Hampton, Mcfadden.

Don't mention all the BS calls that went Sea's way. 10 min drive to start the 2nd half, 110 yards, you fuckers suck.

EMCEE: I see, the makeup of both teams have changed, and a regular season game explains away the travesty of that Super Bowl. The Steelers need more fans of your intellectual caliber.

Posted by: Where you at at Oct 8, 2007 2:26:05 AM

Let's all move on.

Tip of the hats to the Steelers for overcoming multiple, questionable, drive-killing penalties and a TD reversed by replay. I was treated very fairly in Pittsburgh...was not verbally abused before, during, or after the game. I found the city and the people refreshing. The heat and humidity, on the other hand...............

This is my constant blog rant: I'm hoping that we will cease with excuses after we win our next championship. Super Bowl XL is not an isolated incident. Here are just a few times, the city has gone overboard on being 'jobbed': Penn State-UW Aloha Bowl, NCAA BB tourney UW vs UConn, Sonics/Suns (part I), Sonics/Suns (part 2), Yankees... Super Bowl XL whining is magnified because it was the biggest event on the biggest stage.

After witnessing the beat-down in Pittsburgh, I feel a sense of closure...it wasn't the officials that determined the outcome. I am officially moving on.

Posted by: Greg S at Oct 18, 2007 4:57:22 PM

All you had to do is watch the game to see how much of a scam it was! It's clear the NFL is all about the big stories/teams that can make them money, period.

Posted by: GriffeyJr at Nov 13, 2007 5:01:40 PM

Amazing that there are STILL scores of people on YouTube crying foul about this game (i.e., search "Seahawks got Screwed.").

A couple of guys calling themselves the Seahawk Boys posted a "manifesto" breaking down the most controversial plays. When I objectively mentioned that most of their stills were blurry (yours are of much better quality, BTW), making it difficult to confirm their analysis, they abandoned all logic and restored to profanity, accusing me of accusing THEM of “fabricating images” (which I never did) while all but refusing to address my many questions about their article.

Well, at that point it seemed clear that they would not be able to back up their claims. I see it as a learning experience, really. You could probably take ANY NFL game (preseason, regular season, post season) and break it down to the point where you could argue one way or the other how one side "got hosed." Heck, even Patriots fans are getting in the act about how they were supposedly screwed out of SBXLII due to improper time kept at the end. In the wake of Spygate, how sad is that?!?

Here’s what’s REALLY sad: The fact that the accomplishments of BOTH participants of SBXL have been so watered down due to this manufactured controversy – at least in the minds of those who embrace the same.

I had actually hoped the Seahawks could have beaten Favre and the Packers in the 2007 playoffs. I wish them luck in 2008.

As for that Seahawk Boys' site, see my link below for my review of the same - and feel free to email me with any new information that could be added, changed, etc....

- Tim B.

Posted by: Super Bowl XL Review at Apr 29, 2008 1:17:05 PM

wow, you really have no life to waste your time concerning this play, he is not an ineligible receiver, he is a step past the line of scrimmage, get the hell over your loss, you obviously don't realize that during the regular season this probably happens every other pass and it isn't called, but you want to nit-pick and bitch about a player who had no affect on the play buy taking a damn step past the line, seahawks got raped, get over it

Posted by: john at Dec 14, 2008 12:12:07 PM

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