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Safety calls, roughness on QB: Roundtable reviews Week 5 calls

seahawks punt block
This blocked punt gave the Seahawks a safety. But should it have been a touchdown? We asked former NFL officiating graders that question. (Seattle Seahawks photo)

Football Zebras Roundtable

We had a few calls this week that were borderline judgement calls. How close were they? Former NFL officiating supervisors Jim Daopoulos and Larry Upson helped us unpack three controversial calls from Week 5. Both Larry and Jim did extensive game video while working in the league office. Their analysis determined the officials’ grades for the season.

Of the three calls, there is no consensus amongst Larry, Jim, and the crew that called each play.

Seahawks punt block

The Seahawks blocked a Colts punt, and Jeron Johnson recovers the ball for the Seahawks right on the endline (video).

Call on the field: Safety, upheld by replay review  

Larry Upson: The Seahawks are only credited with a safety because the defender doesn’t maintain control of the football in the end zone.   The ball is loose as he is sliding out of bounds.   You can see the ball move slightly down his body as he is crossing the endline. I think it’s a good call as ruled on the field and upheld after the replay review.

Jim Daopoulos: It appears to me that Johnson has secured the football prior to sliding and contacting the out-of-bounds line. I feel both the referee and umpire needed to be on the back line to make a more accurate ruling on the play. Personally, I feel there was sufficient evidence to prove that the ball was in Johnson’s control, and replay should have reversed the call. I understand the decision that there was “movement” of the ball but it certainly appeared that the player “stuck” it when he was sliding prior to going out of bounds.

Giants avoid a safety

Giants running back David Wilson is pushed back into his end zone, where he momentarily disengages from the defender   and is tackled in the end zone (image via Deadspin).

Call on the field: Forward progress stopped at the 2, not a safety. By rule, forward progress is not reviewable  

Upson: I took a long look at the play and I think that this should have been a safety.   The runner’s forward progress is stopped initially but he regains his balance and tries to advance the football.   This is a tough one to sort out on the field but in hindsight now looking at it, I think a Safety is the proper ruling.

Daopoulos: The runner is contacted at about the 2-yard line but is not wrapped up by the defender. He gets away, and as we say, gets his legs back and attempts to advance upfield. This, in my opinion, is a safety and should have been ruled that way on the field. The problem is that this action is not reviewable in replay. The philosophy in the NFL office has always been, don’t give a team a cheap score. But, this is a strong defensive play, and the Eagles should have been awarded a safety. Had this action occurred in the middle of the field, I am certain the officials would have make the dead-ball spot behind the line of scrimmage and not ruled forward progress.

Titans unnecessary roughness penalty

On a 2-yard gain, Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith is heading out of bounds when Titans linebacker Moise Fokou hits Smith (video, at 2:31).

Call on the field: Unnecessary roughness, 15-yard penalty.

Upson: I would say that this is an incorrect call.   The defender’s initial contact with the quarterback takes place while the quarterback is still in the field of play.   Also, the contact by the defender is legal because he hits the quarterback below the head and neck area.

Daopoulos: The call for the hit on Alex Smith was exactly the correct call. As the quarterback was heading for the sideline and getting out of bounds and must be protected. He did not appear to be attempting to gain additional yardage by going “north—south” and for this reason the hit was illegal.

Here is the grading card for the plays:

   Daopoulos Upson
Seahawks safety
Ding Checkmark
Giants down at 2-yard line
Ding Ding
Titans unnecessary roughness Checkmark Ding

So far, the league office has only commented on the Seahawks safety call. As Football Zebras noted, vice president of officiating Dean Blandino explained why the call was made, but stopped short of ruling it right or wrong.

Football Zebras Roundtable is a periodic feature we will present on an ad-hoc basis to analyze select calls with experts.

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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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3 thoughts on “Safety calls, roughness on QB: Roundtable reviews Week 5 calls

  1. On the NYG safety, your sources say Wilson…

    “tries to advance the football.”
    “attempts to advance upfield. ”

    but the rule book does not address ‘attempts’ to advance the ball. It clearly says:

    “when a runner is held or otherwise restrained so that his forward progress

    no mention on what the runner was attempting to do. When I watch the replay, I do not see any actual advancement of the ball.

    You could make the argument that Wilson was not ‘held or restrained’, but if that’s the rule, I’ve seen a ton of passes where the receiver catches the ball while moving backwards and is given forward progress without being held or restrained. NFL referees regularly give forward progress spots to receivers without the ball carrier being held or restrained.

  2. Your example of a receiver going backwards is actually contrary to the rulebook. If you’ve seen it happen, then it was ruled incorrectly.

    If a receiver is going backwards on his own volition, he is retreating his forward progress point. In this case, a new effort by the runner would reset his forward progress point, regardless of his actual advancement of the ball.

    Two weeks ago, Jets quarterback Geno Smith dropped straight back, was sacked at the 1, and actually came to the ground in the end zone. Even though Smith was going backwards, his “forward progress” (seemingly contradictory term, but hang in there) was stopped at the 1. In other words, his last effort as a runner was at the 1, at a point forward of where he finally hit the ground.

    In the Giants play, I thought it was very, very close to being a safety. But, I can support the call that they felt the forward progress point was reset (which is why I asked them in the first place).

    In summary, forward progress does not mean the ball is moving forward and then stops and goes backwards. Rather there is a point when a defensive attack initiated which is forward of where there ball eventually ended up.

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