Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Weekend Football Roundup - The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

We break down the non-call that had Tom Brady less than pleased Monday night. But, did the officials get it right? Sorta.
 By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin) and Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

Every Tuesday during football season, editors Jeremy and Joe will bring you the good, the bad and the ugly from the pro and college football weekend.

The Ugly

We're throwing a bit of a change-up this week and starting off with The Ugly before getting to The Good and The Bad, as was what will certainly be the main topic of conversation for the rest of the week was a rather ugly end to the Monday Night game between New England and Carolina.

Now, let me clear something up - the ending was not ugly because the call was incorrect. The ending was ugly because the referees didn't make the right call (that sounds overtly contradictory, I know, but stay with me).

After watching the last play of the game over and over and over, in various stages of slow-motion, I can comfortably say that the call should have been.... well, I don't know. I really don't.

Here are two GIFs of the play in slow-motion, from different angles, courtesy of BuzzFeed Sports:

From this angle, depending on how generous you want to be, you can see Luke Kuechly (59) just barely get his head turned around to locate the ball as it approaches the intended receiver, Rob Gronkowski. Seemingly, this would eliminate the "face-guarding" element of a potential Defensive Pass Interference penalty. And again, depending on how generous you want to be, you can see Gronkowski's right arm slip underneath Kuechly's arm, presumably to give a slight nudge and create enough separation to raise his arms and make a catch, but gives up the effort when he realizes the ball is under-thrown. This could, in the eyes of the official, create a scenario where both players were jostling for position for the same ball, which is often treated as a no-call. Here's another angle:

Notice the feet. Right after safety Robert Lester (38) cuts underneath Gronkowski, Gronkowski makes his motion to change direction, and his left knee rises and actually bumps Kuechly's right thigh. From this angle, it seems like THAT is what causes Kuechly to lose his balance, and apparently drape his arms over Gronkowski to prevent falling down (which in most cases would be called a foul) - in other words, it's contact that is initiated by Gronkowski that causes Kuechly to lose his balance and create the potential foul-inducing contact. At the same time, the ball is noticeably under-thrown, and Lester cuts across to intercept the ball. 

But the way the timing works out, Kuechly's contact on Gronkowski (remember, he kinda-sorta got his head turned around, so face-guarding doesn't seem to be the right call) doesn't become blatantly illegal until the ball is being intercepted.

If the contact isn't illegal until the ball is being intercepted, that would clearly invoke the "uncatchable" element of Defensive Pass Interference. How could the contact prevent the receiver from catching a ball that is already in the process of being caught by a different player nearly five yards away? Looking at these two replays, it seems like the ruling on the field was correct, or at the very least, defensible.

But it was the wrong call. (Again, stay with me.) Here's why:

1. The referees aren't watching the play from perfect broadcast angles in slow-motion.


2. The original call on the field was that there was a foul.

It took me about 10 minutes of re-constructing the play from a handful of different angles, all in slow-motion, before I came to the conclusion that the ruling on the field was, by fairly generous interpretations of the rules, correct. Referees don't have that luxury. Watching the play in real-time, it seemed like an obvious penalty on Carolina. If it wasn't DPI, it was at least Illegal Contact (which would result in a five-yard automatic first down, followed by an un-timed down from the 12-yard line). Further complicating things was that the back judge, standing right in front of the contact (illegal or not), threw a flag on the play. Clearly, he thought that the contact warranted a penalty. And, unless you're like me, and watched and re-watched the play dozens of times looking specifically for a line of reasoning that would lead to the flag being picked up, there would be no real reason to disagree with him. Seeing the play once, in real time, should have resulted in a flag being thrown, but in this case, a penalty being enforced as well.

They ended up with (possibly/probably) the right result - a no-call, but they made a failure of process. Fox Sports' Mike Pereira, one of the preeminent experts on NFL officiating, says they should have stayed with the call:

In my estimation, this is the type of contact that should have been called and awarded the Patriots an untimed down (either from the 12 in the case of Illegal Contact, or that 1-yard line in the case of Defensive Pass Interference), and, in the event that they scored a touchdown on that play, Carolina fans would be the ones sulking, and de-constructing the play as I did to come to the conclusion "Hey, we got shafted here!"

But the key thing to remember is that the Patriots were not shafted out of a win - they were only shafted out of an opportunity. There's a key difference there. There's no guarantee they would have scored on the un-timed down, even from the 1-yard line. The Patriots are a good short-yardage team, but the Panthers have possibly the best front seven in all of football, and a front seven that was getting consistent penetration on the interior of the Patriots line (worth mentioning that the Patriots didn't even attempt to go for it on 4th-and-1 from the Carolina eight-yard line with 6:36 to play - but more on that later). But regardless of this, many Patriots fans will likely believe a win was stolen from their hands. They won't be right, but they won't totally be wrong either. There's a deep shade of gray, and that's the reason this result was so ugly.


The Good

The Carolina Panthers

But really.


Ben Roethlisberger

Ok, well I guess it will be up to me to write things about every other game this past weekend. Though he's been beaten, bloodied, and occasionally turnover prone (mostly due to the worst pass protection in football) Pittsburgh's awkwardly effective quarterback may have saved the Steelers' season with an absolutely flawless performance against the Lions Sunday.

Sure, all anybody is talking about is the fact that the Lions ran a poorly timed and poorly executed fake field goal that halted their momentum, but the story here is that Big Ben PUT THA TEAM ON HIS F*****G BACK DOE!!

367 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions, despite the fact that Nick Fairley was practically living in his lap (that's what she said), is a pretty fantastic day. How did it happen? They let Ben be Ben.

After a year and a half of offensive coordinator Todd Haley attempting to get Roethlisberger to play a more conventional game and get the ball out of his hand quickly, the Steelers let go of the reigns and let Ben go. The recent subject of trade rumors from Pittsburgh, Roethlisberger operated almost exclusively out of the no-huddle and pretty much forgot that running the ball was an option.

This is Pittsburgh's best chance to make the playoffs, though a slim one. Still, get back tah Stiller football and run the ball more ya jagoff!! TOMLIN, YOU KNUCKLEHEAD!!!



Yes, I am saying the BCS is good. Come on, any system that allows Urban Meyer to go undefeated and not play for a national championship has to make you feel a little warm and fuzzy inside.

My college football dream is that Urban Meyer never loses a game at Ohio State, but never gets to play for a title. His Buckeyes dominate the Big Ten for a decade, reeling off 140 consecutive victories, including 12 Rose Bowl wins, yet every season they finish No. 3 in the final BCS standings.

Unfortunately, that stupid college football playoff system starts next season, so we'll just have to deal with Ohio State getting in and losing to an SEC team. The more things change, the more they stay the same.


Ed Orgeron

I've always had a soft spot for recruiting savant Ed Orgeron. The guy was the architect of those feared Miami Hurricane defensive lines of the late 80s and early 90s, where he coached future NFL stars like Warren Sapp, Cortez Kennedy and Russell Maryland. Oregeron also coached Dwayne Johnson, and apparently gave him a bunch of lines that he later used as The Rock in the WWF/E.

That, in itself, makes him a legend to me.

But then, Oregeron and his Ole Miss coaching staff were the subject of the uber popular and wildly fascinating Bruce Feldman book, "Meat Market." In the book, Oregeron gives Feldman unprecedented access to his recruiting film room and sheds light on the sometimes ugly world of college football recruiting. It is the most interesting book you will ever read about college football, and is a must-read for anybody that wants to know more about what makes a great recruiter.

Sadly, at one point, Oregeron gets mad at one of his coaches for flying to Pittsburgh to talk to Rob Gronkowski, while simultaneously gushing over Robert Marve and Stephen Garcia.

Ok, so maybe he wasn't the perfect talent evaluator, but the job he has done as interim coach at USC is nothing short of extraordinary. After starting 3-2 and 0-2 in the Pac 12 with Lane Kiffin, the Trojans have won five of their last six, including five straight in the conference, and currently sit at 8-3, 5-2 Pac 12. The most recent, and most impressive win, being a 20-17 grinder against then-No.4 Stanford.

Coach O wants the job, probably so he can tell all those jabronis in Palo Alto to know their roles and shut their mouths, just before he lays the smackdown on their candy asses. But, it appears USC has already interviewed Broncos defensive coordinator/interim coach (and former USC linebacker) Jack Del Rio for the job.

I don't know if it would be the right hire, but I'm rooting for Orgeron to run the table and get the job.


The Bad 

Kicking Field Goals On 4th-And-1 Late In The Game

The Patriots had the ball on the Carolina eight-yard line with 6:42 remaining. On 3rd-and-1, a pass towards Aaron Dobson fell incomplete. On 4th-and-1, with 6:36 remaining, and three timeouts, the Patriots kicked a field goal to go up 20-17, as opposed to going for it on 4th-and-1 to try to punch in a touchdown on the drive.

Now, I'll concede that there are two very valid sides to this argument. On one hand, the Patriots lost by four points, so the four points that they left on the field seem to stand out even more in retrospect. On the other hand, the Patriots DID manufacture a potential game-winning drive late in the game that very well could have ended in a Patriots win had a little bit of luck with the officials gone their way.

In this instance though, I think you have to go for it. The best-case scenario is that you end up with a 24-17 lead with roughly five minutes left in the game. I'm not a Super Bowl-winning coach, but that strikes me as an advantage. The worst-case scenario is that Carolina takes over possession at their own eight-yard line, in a game tied 17-17, with 6:30 remaining and all three timeouts.

If Carolina drives 90+ yards for a touchdown, you're left with a short amount of time to respond with a touchdown of your own. In other words, exactly what ended up happening anyway. If you hold them to a field goal, you only need a field goal to tie and a touchdown potentially wins the game. And if you get a stop (worth mentioning that the Patriots defense had forced a three-and-out on the previous Carolina possession), a field goal wins the game.

Based on the time and score, the worst-case scenario for going for it (failing to covert and then surrendering a touchdown) isn't much different from what actually transpired - in both instances, the Patriots were left with a very short amount of time in which to score a touchdown. Had they gone for it and punched in a touchdown, instead of scrambling to score to come back and win, they could have taken a few calm looks downfield for a potential game-winning field goal, and if nothing was there, playing for overtime.

The best-case scenario is much better than what actually happened. The worst-case scenario is basically the same as what actually happened. If that doesn't mean going for it was the right call, I don't know what does.


The Jaguars/Tim Tebow/Dewey Arnette

So, professional golfer Dewey Arnett has come out to admit that it was he who placed a $1.2 million ad in the Florida-Times Union urging Jaguars owner Shadid Khan to sign Tim Tebow. The ad, which you can see below, is signed by "THE CITIZENS OF JACKSONVILLE" and appears to make fun of Khan's mustache.

First of all, I'm sick of mustache humor. We get it, people have mustaches, and that's awesome, but I'm just done with it. This isn't 2008 anymore.

Speaking of 2008, that was the last time Tim Tebow was relevant in Florida. Sure, signing Tebow would likely bring in more fans, and the team sure can't get any worse, making Jacksonville's non-signing of the local legend a bit perplexing.

Still, $1.2 million?!?!? Really, it means that much to you that a crappy team picks up a crappy quarterback? Arnette and his son have also gauged public interest in a potential Tebow signing by standing in Jacksonville's San Marco square holding up "Tebow to Jax" signs and handing out Tebow shirts.

Arnette, who totally isn't crazy, had this to say.

"I don't want to come off as odd," Arnette said. "The thing is, having done these things, I know how supportive people are of Tim Tebow around here. And our standards for the team are just so low right now."

Wow, I really don't know who the saddest person is in all of this.


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