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Week 10 remainders: Dissecting special illegal motions and illegal shifts

Two plays from this past Sunday that involved pre-snap motion raised eyebrows of some football fans.



A couple plays from this past Sunday raised eyebrows of some football fans. Two of these plays involved pre-snap motion that turned into live ball fouls. One trick play from early in the first quarter of the Falcons-Browns game resulted in an illegal motion penalty on Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield. On the play, Mayfield, who was under center, began to walk toward his own sideline as the ball was directly snapped to a teammate. Referee Pete Morelli threw a flag on the play for illegal motion, and explained that Mayfield went in motion and never got set on the play (video below). Normally, receivers can go in motion while the ball is being snapped, provided they are not moving toward the line of scrimmage, but a different rule governs quarterbacks under center who go in motion.
According to Rule 7-4-2-Item 3, it is legal for a quarterback who is under center to go in motion, but he must come to a complete stop for at least one full second prior to the ball being snapped. A violation of this rule results in a five-yard penalty for illegal motion. Morelli was all over this call. Since Mayfield started under center, started walking toward his sideline, and never stopped moving before the ball was snapped, he was guilty of illegal motion on the play.
In another play from the afternoon, this time from the Cardinals-Chiefs contest, the Chiefs’ offense was flagged for an illegal shift on a screen pass. Multiple receivers went in motion, then set themselves, but as the running back came in motion, almost the entire offensive line as well as two receivers stood out of their original stances as it seemed Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes was trying to call an audible of some type. Before the players were able to retain their original stances, Mahomes took the snap on the play.
Although multiple players were not laterally moving on the play, they were removed from their stance at the snap and never reset. By Rule 7-4-6, all offensive players are required to come to a complete stop, and be in a set position, simultaneously for at least one full second prior to the snap. Since the Kansas City offense did not remain in their set position, and did not reset, this was a correct call for an illegal shift. It is unclear in the angles that are available who threw the flag, but it was most likely line judge Gary Arthur, or the flag was thrown late on the play after a discussion.
Another, more notable, aspect of this play, was the penalty enforcement. Illegal shift is a five yard penalty and live-ball foul, which results in the penalty being enforced from the previous line of scrimmage. The line of scrimmage on this play was approximately the 34½ yard line, but the next play, after walking off the infraction, was snapped from the 40½ yard line; yes, statistically it’s a 6-yard penalty. Usual procedure has the referee, who in this game was Carl Cheffers, report the foul, while the umpire, Barry Anderson in this game, walks off the penalty yardage. At this time, the line of scrimmage officials, Arthur and down judge Mike Spanier, will work together to hold the enforcement spot and the succeeding spot as a cross-check while everything gets figured out. Somewhere, there was a break in the chain. A retired official told Football Zebras, “When you see a 6-yard markoff like that, it’s a communication issue.”

Cam Filipe is a forensic scientist and has been involved in football officiating for 12 years. Cam is in his fourth season as a high school football official. This is his ninth season covering NFL officiating for Football Zebras.

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