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Week 14

Mechanics or communication? Something broke on the MNF blocked field goal

No matter if it was a mechanics gap or a communication gap, this was a disappointing miss at a critical moment in the game. 



Week 14: Vikings at Seahawks

Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner blocked a Minnesota Vikings field goal in the second half of their game Monday night, with the game still in the balance. That play swung momentum to the Seahawks, and they never relinquished it. Problem is, Wagner fouled on the play and the Vikings should have kept the ball after a penalty enforcement.

For years, the defense was prohibited from running forward, leaping over the line of scrimmage, and landing on players in an attempt to block the kick. Last year, this was revised to prohibit any run and leap by a defensive player off the line, regardless of contact, but stationary players on the line could leap over the line. Wagner was on the line of scrimmage so there was no leaping foul.

This year, the NFL modified the existing rule using teammates or an opponent as leverage to bust through the line. Wagner was guilty of violating the new aspect of leverage rule. Rule 12-3-1(p) lists this as one of the unsportsmanlike conduct fouls related to kick defense, with the new language in 2018 underlined:

Placing a hand or hands on a teammate or opponent to gain additional height to block or attempt to block an opponent’s kick or apparent kick, or in an attempt to jump through a gap to block an opponent’s kick or apparent kick.

This would not mean any touch of another player with the hand that is incidental is a foul, rather if the placement of the hand assists the jump up or through the line.

So, how the officials miss this? Along with the new rule change this year, the NFL added a new mechanic. The NFL positioned the umpire in the offensive backfield on scoring kicks. On scoring kicks last year, the umpire and side judge lined up behind the defensive line to judge leverage, formation and holding fouls.

This year, the side judge is by himself.

On the Wagner play, umpire Ruben Fowler threw a flag and side judge Eugene Hall talked him off of the flag. Fowler called a leaping foul. By rule, Wagner didn’t leap so Hall was correct on part one of this play.

But why didn’t Hall or Fowler or the rest of Brad Allen’s crew follow-through, hash it out, and rule Wagner guilty of leverage? Did they forget the rule? Fowler knew something was wrong or else he wouldn’t have thrown the flag. Fowler may not have been able to see the leverage, and Hall must not have seen it either.

This is one play where the double umpire position might have gotten the call right. The umpire and side judge could have split the defensive line in two and had eyes on fewer people and a better chance to see the foul. 

No matter if it was a mechanics gap or a communication gap, this was a disappointing miss at a critical moment in the game. Regardless of the reason, this must be called correctly on the field.

Mark Schultz is a high school football official, freelance writer and journalist. He first became interested in officiating when he was six years old, was watching a NFL game with his father and asked the fateful question, "Dad, what are those guys in the striped shirts doing?"