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ControversyOn-field measurement not decisive on TV

On-field measurement not decisive on TV

Week 6: Browns at Steelers

The Cleveland Plain Dealer is questioning whether a first down measurement sustained a drive that resulted in a Steelers field goal against the Browns (video, forward to 1:31). The hometown paper’s headline screams the Steelers got three unearned points as a result of the measurement.

Walt Coleman measures this as a first down, as the television angle appears to place it short. (Credit: NFL/CBS Sports)
Walt Coleman measures this as a first down, as the television angle appears to place it short. (Credit: NFL/CBS Sports)

The camera angle certainly does not make the call look correct. But, I think deference goes to the man standing right over the ball. The camera is not square-on, so there is no reference to the sideline to see how obtuse the angle is.

Referee Walt Coleman told a pool reporter after the game that the point of the ball clearly penetrated the inside plane of the stake. Coleman then explained the principle of visual perception:

It can be deceptive because there’s a little bit of a distance, probably in the neighborhood of five or six inches between the actual point of the football and where the stake actually sets on the ground. If you shot at an angle maybe from back behind the ball it might look like it’s short. If you shot at angle from the other side, it might actually look like it’s further in advance of the stake than what it actually is.

While the Browns defense did not allow the Steelers to gain another yard before kicking a field goal, the points are hardly unearned. Bad call or not (and this certainly cannot be a bad call), the Browns defense did allow the Steelers to get in position on a 12-play, 52-yard drive.

Ben Austro
Ben Austro
Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)

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