Players always looking for an advantage


By Jeff Linville - [email protected]



Someone asked me the other day why I haven’t written about politics lately in my weekly column.

It’s simple. I’d rather be bashed in the head with a brick.

No one is going to change his or her mind at this late stage in the campaign. And no matter how reasonable you try to be, there will always be some extremist on one side or the other that condemns you. So I am staying clear.

Instead, you’ll have to forgive me for talking a little sports again.

This week I want to talk about the issue of an unfair advantage. That is pretty much the single most-important point for needing rules in sports. We want people to compete on a level field, so we establish rules to protect fair play.

And those who play sports at the highest level are always pushing the boundaries, trying to come up with ways to cheat and not get caught.

What I saw over this past weekend in the NFL had me shaking my head so many times I think I developed whiplash.

For example, there were at least three flags thrown against the Saints for pass interference on the Panthers. And the Saints had the nerve to complain.

The rule for decades has been that once the ball is in the air, the defender cannot hit the receiver until the ball arrives. Any contact that impedes the WR from making a catch is pass interference.

Granted, there is a small loophole. If a defender sees the ball in the air and wants to make an interception, any incidental contact between the two players is overlooked. That makes sense. Both players have a chance at the ball, and it stands to reason they might bump into each other.

However, defensive coordinators have taken this loophole to extremes. They now coach cornerbacks to turn their heads back toward the line of scrimmage and then get their bodies into the receivers so they can’t make a catch. The CBs aren’t trying to make an interception; they are trying to impede the WRs from getting to the ball, which is interference.

This ends up putting the officials in a tough spot of trying to figure out what is and isn’t incidental contact.

Thankfully the New Orleans crew called that penalty three times for the Panthers.

However, two other kinds of unfair contact were allowed to go unpunished over the weekend.

One of those is when a deep ball is thrown up the the field and the receiver is trying to run under it. If the CB doesn’t think he can make a play on the ball, what does he do? Give up a big play? No, he runs up the back of the receiver’s legs.

The CB steps on the WR’s heels, causing the player to stumble and fall. The refs call that incidental contact and never throw a flag. But this happens way, way too often to be a simple coincidence. You know the defender is doing this on purpose, but it never gets called.

Unless you are Ted Ginn Jr. playing on offense. In a remarkable call Sunday, the WR was called for tripping up a defensive back when cutting toward the middle of the field. The defender fell down, and this drew a flag. What? What about when they did the same thing to Ted? Unbelievable.

For the next act, I’ll simply refer to is as the B.W. Webb move.

Who is B.W. Webb? Fair question. He was a fourth-round draft pick by the Cowboys playing for his fourth team in as many years.

In his three previous seasons, Webb had a grand total of one interception and three passes broken up.

Against the Panthers on Sunday, Webb was credited with FOUR passes broken up in a single game. Three season with three breakups, and one afternoon with four.

What was the difference? The officials didn’t once call Webb for contact with the receiver before the ball arrived. If he had been flagged on a couple of those plays, then obviously those breakups would be erased, and he would have had to change how he played and likely wouldn’t have gotten credit for the other as well.

Last season with the Titans, Webb cost his team a win by getting a late flag on a third-down play that kept the Raiders’ drive alive; the Raiders went on to win the game.

So what did Webb do Sunday? He gave a subtle but important twist to a receiver’s hip.

Huh?

When the receiver was about to make a catch, Webb would come up, stick his inside arm out toward the ball to make a play. Meanwhile it was his outside arm that sneaked around the receiver’s back and grabbed his hip.

As Webb reached toward the ball, the sneaky hand pulled on the hip, causing the receiver to be turned sideways.

One of those plays came against TE Greg Olsen. Webb reached out with his left arm, while his right went behind Olsen’s back. Olsen reached out for the ball, but suddenly his right arm went back as his body was twisted. Even if Webb hadn’t knocked the ball away, there is no way that Olsen could catch the ball with his right arm going back.

Have I seen this called interference in other games? Yes, but it wasn’t called a single time against the Saints.

I heard a former coach defending this move on a talk show. He said the defender is doing nothing wrong by resting his arm on the receiver before the ball arrives. Perhaps, but the defender isn’t just resting his arm, and officials need to be aware of this dirty play so we can get back to a level playing field.

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By Jeff Linville

[email protected]

Jeff is the associate editor and can be reached at 415-4692.

Jeff is the associate editor and can be reached at 415-4692.

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