Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers loves to move his offense to the line of scrimmage quickly and snap the ball in an attempt to catch the defense off-guard, and perhaps with too many men on the field. Even the late great Alex Trebek knew this. However, in last weekend’s Divisional Playoff between Rodgers’ Packers and the Los Angeles Rams, the crew was able to stop the tactic by holding up play to allow for equal substitution.
Early in the first quarter of the game, the Rams were penalized for too many men on the field, as their substitutes ran on to the field before the players exiting the field of play could reach the sideline. Later in the same quarter, umpire Mark Pellis stopped play at the behest of referee Ron Torbert, in order to allow the Rams defense to match up due to a quick, simulated substitution by the Packers.
Sources tell Football Zebras that alternate officials are being told to watch for this tactic in the Conference Championships, and to help out the on-field officials when the quick substitution happens behind them while the crew concentrates on working the dead-ball period. There will be a full crew of alternate officials working the Conference Championships.
There was no TV angle that showed the first simulated substitution that drew the Rams penalty, but the officiating department has a separate dedicated camera — called an all-29 angle, as it shows all 22 players and 7 officials — which runs during dead-ball periods. Our sources indicated that two Packers players removed their warmup jackets, took a few steps onto the field, and quickly withdrew. The dead-ball spot was outside of the bench area, so the quick maneuver happened behind officials’ backs. The second violation was likely caught after the Rams bench brought this to the crew’s attention.
By rule, if a substitution is made by the offense, the offense is forbidden from snapping the ball until the defense has been given enough time to match up to the substitutions. This prevents a quick-moving offense from rushing quickly to the line of scrimmage and snapping the ball to try to catch too many players on the field.
The signal that indicates a defensive substitution matchup is being enforced resembles an unsportsmanlike conduct signal with fists instead of flat hands. The referee and umpire will give this signal, and no snap is allowed.
The responsibility falls on the offense to substitute on time and allow the defense to match up, and could even be assessed with a delay of game penalty although they are unable to snap the ball. The umpire will stand over the ball and not move into position until the referee tells him to do so, even if the play clock hits double zeroes.
As for the simulated substitution, this is a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. However, it first comes as a warning, under a rule change in 2017. That warning was implemented after it was found to be used in unusual situations that were deemed not to be unsportsmanlike, such as a coach’s decision to modify the play call, as long as the defense is not disadvantaged.