Monday, November 23, 2009

It Would Be Nice If They Knew the Rules

This morning's Plain Dealer carried a story detailing the whining that the Browns engaged in after Hank Poteat was called for pass interference. I understand how frustrating it is to lose a game like that, but I've watched the reply several times, and the refs absolutely got it right.

Hey, mistakes happen, and sometimes they cost you games, but what really boggles my mind is that both Eric Mangini and Hank Poteat appear to think they've got a legitimate beef with the call on that play. Both of these guys complained that the QB was outside of the pocket, which according to their interpretation of the rules, allowed Hank Poteat to knock the receiver out of bounds while the ball was in the air.

Sorry guys, but that ain't the rule. Mangini and Poteat are confusing an exception to the illegal contact rule with a non-existent exception to the prohibition on pass interference. Generally, a defender engages in illegal contact if he makes contact with a receiver -- before the ball is thrown -- that impedes him in any way more than five yards beyond the line of scrimmage.

This rule was put in place back in 1978 (and amped up in 2004) to open up the passing game. The illegal contact rule is probably the stupidest rule in the entire rulebook other than the Brady Rule, but that's not what's relevant to the Browns' situation. What is relevant is an exception to the illegal contact rule that applies if the QB is out of the pocket. The reason for that exception is that when the QB's scrambling, he's a potential runner, and any receiver can justifiably be regarded as a potential blocker. The NFL adopted this exception before the 2007 season.

That exception doesn't apply to pass interference. According to the NFL rule book: "It is pass interference by either team when any player movement beyond the line of scrimmage significantly hinders the progress of an eligible player of such player’s opportunity to catch the ball. Offensive pass interference rules apply from the time the ball is snapped until the ball is touched. Defensive pass interference rules apply from the time the ball is thrown until the ball is touched."

One of the things that the rule specifically says constitutes pass interference is "cutting off the path of a receiver by making contact with him without playing the ball." Check out Poteat's play (if you can stand to look at it again) and tell me if it wasn't a textbook example of pass interference.

Like I said, textbook. It doesn't matter that Stafford was out of the pocket. Once he threw the ball, the Browns couldn't have been penalized for illegal contact, and the scrambling QB exception to that penalty no longer applied. Unfortunately, the moment that the ball left Stafford's hand, the pass interference rule did apply --and the fact that Bryant Johnson wasn't the intended receiver does not matter. He was an eligible receiver, and Poteat's contact cut off his path to a ball that was not clearly uncatchable. Read the rule for yourself if you don't believe me.

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