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Final analysis of the Lions eligibility reporting scheme

A final look at what the 3 Lions linemen and referee Brad Allen did on the failed 2-point conversion



A look at the Lions linemen and referee Brad Allen on the failed 2-point conversion

As we saw last week, the Lions had their go-ahead 2-point conversion nullified at the end of the game because lineman Taylor Decker (#68) was intended to be the eligible player, but was flagged when he caught the pass.

Before I examine the play, one thing that is worth pointing out. While I have been accused of everything from being the designated referee apologist to being on the officiating department payroll, this is going to be examined based on the facts we have learned since Saturday’s game. Additionally, I will point out that I don’t have tolerance for administrative errors, and this site has lowered the boom on officials who misapply a rule or lose track of downs or timeouts.

During the pregame meetings, members of the officiating crew meet with both coaches simultaneously to ask if there are any trick plays. Lions coach Dan Campbell said after the game that he “explained everything pregame to a ‘T’” in that meeting, although the specifics that were shared were not said.

Incoming lineman Dan Skipper was on a beeline to Allen and had his hand up. While that was happening, lineman Penei Sewell (#58) and Decker approached Allen, and all Decker said was “reporting.” Allen took this to mean that it was Skipper (with his hand up) and not Decker (assumed to be calling attention to Decker), and points to Skipper in acknowledgment. Allen announced Skipper (#70) to the defense and over the public address system as the eligible player. (Frequently, these announcements are not heard on TV.)

Lineman are always responsible for the clear communication of reporting eligible to the referee. A signal — brushing his chest with both hands as if “erasing” the number — is typically given by linemen, and there have been times that the referee didn’t see the signal. Again, it goes back to the lineman to get some acknowledgment from the referee.

While this might have been explained to a “T” to the officiating crew, there is no way the officials would leave that meeting without saying that Allen would not be an agent of subterfuge. With two linemen in Allen’s vicinity, with one saying “reporting” and not “I am reporting eligible” or “Number 68 reporting eligible,” the attempt to confuse the defense created a nebulous reporting situation. If Skipper was not reporting eligible, he would have gone straight to the huddle.

The purpose was to confuse the Cowboys and to avoid a single lineman approaching the referee which would give the Cowboys extra seconds to adjust or send in a substitute. Otherwise, there is no reason for three linemen to go to the referee between plays unless there are multiple reporting linemen. (Campbell was mistaken that more than one player cannot report. It is possible to have all six eligible players be linemen that are reporting.)

One other point that was mentioned was that there were actually 3 fouls on the play, but only one announced. Because #70 (announced eligible) and #68 (intended eligible) are on the interior and end of the line respectively, that is an illegal formation. Additionally, Decker was an ineligible player downfield on the pass. The one that was announced was illegal touching of the pass by a lineman. (This particular penalty is not a loss of down; if an eligible receiver steps out and back in, that penalty carries a loss of down, resulting in an immediate failure of the conversion.) The other fouls did not have to be announced in this situation because they are all borne out of the same situation. (As an example, if there was a play where there are 12 players on the field, and the exiting player is moving in a forward motion and crosses the line of scrimmage, the referee would just announce the too-many-men foul and not mention the illegal motion and offside.)

Senior vice president of officiating Walt Anderson sent a video to the teams explaining the reporting procedure.

Some have pointed out that Allen assumed Skipper was reporting eligible and never saw the eligible signal. The signal is not required, but it is part of the lineman’s methods of communicating. Skipper raised his hand earlier in the game, and did the same on the 2-point conversion. It was an ambiguous signal by design.

What is Allen’s role in this mistaken reporting situation? We have confirmed with various officiating sources that this play was graded as correct. Mechanically, since the game clock is stopped and they are coming out of a Cowboys timeout, Allen could have slowed things down, and ensured that he understood the command “reporting” from one player and a signaling lineman entering the game. However, we must also consider that had Allen done that, it would have thwarted Campbell’s attempt to establish an air of confusion on the defense. In an alternate universe, this also could have been a controversy.

This isn’t cover mode for Allen’s sake. It was reported by ESPN that Allen’s crew was “downgraded” for Saturday’s game, which is implying some extra sanction, when a downgrade just means that particular play is marked as an incorrect call, incorrect no-call, or incorrect judgment. The crew would not be downgraded for this play in any event, because it only involves the referee, and the league supports the call that Allen made based on the principle that linemen must clearly communicate eligibility.

While there is some things that could have been done better, those are with the benefit of hindsight. I think going forward, all referees will slow down and process the reporting situation and even pump the play clock up to 25 if the play clock is running and there is an administrative delay.

This post was updated to reflect that the play clock was stopped at 25 because of a Cowboys timeout, and not 20 for the replay booth to confirm the touchdown.

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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  1. Anonymous

    January 6, 2024 at 1:27 pm

    How is the play considered graded correctly?
    The rules state thr player must both verbally and physically show they are reporting.
    Decker does. And skipper does not.
    Allen made a mistake.
    Why won’t the league admit it?

  2. Anonymous

    January 6, 2024 at 2:03 pm

    Isnt this the same exact signal that Skipper made when announcing to his teammates in the 1st quarter that it was the jumbo package? It didn’t cause confusion or eligibility issues in the 1st. I think as deep an analysis as this is, it should take that into consideration as well. Skipper didn’t report, Decker did, ref announced Skipper eligible which didn’t give the Boys the proper opportunity to cover Decker. Ultimately the ref blew it, and it’s not on the players IMHO. And no one will know if Decker would have been picked up on the route if it were called correctly so it’s not fair to say the Lions would have won. Just a blown call ‍♂️

  3. Anonymous

    January 6, 2024 at 2:19 pm

    What official on the field threw the penalty flag?

  4. Anonymous

    January 6, 2024 at 2:22 pm

    I appreciate the insight that you provide. I enjoy getting the official’s perspective and your ability not to ostracize while providing meaningful commentary. Too often, we get caught up in the bluster of the moment and assume we understand the situation, forgetting to seek clarity. Thank you for providing that clarity.

  5. Anonymous

    January 6, 2024 at 3:02 pm

    Wait, when Allen pointed at Skipper, Decker was still 6-8 feet away from Allen. Are you saying that Decker was yelling “Reporting!” to Allen before he even got close to him?
    Likewise, Skipper was a good 10 yards away from Allen when Allen pointed to him. Allen stated in the pool report that Skipper reported as eligible. Was he yelling “Reporting!” to Allen from that distance?
    Can one lineman report a different lineman as eligible?
    I think Allen made assumptions he shouldn’t have.

  6. Anonymous

    January 6, 2024 at 3:37 pm

    Thank you for this posting. You have confirmed what I have been saying from the start. #70 is “reporting” as you say and prove. The play was called and ruled 100% correct by the officials. No one “talking Head” from the start has ever admitted that there were TWO fouls on the play. Cowboys could have accepted either. Just Wish that Brad Allen would have announced both and one was declined and the other accepted.
    Either way the Cowboys won the game WITHOUT “help” from the officials and in fact because of the BAD tripping call had to actually overcome the bad call that went against the Cowboys. Thanks again for your article on this issue. Also Allen’s crew is calling a game today that can/will have an impact on the playoffs.

  7. Anonymous

    January 6, 2024 at 7:28 pm

    First off the wide receiver next to Decker was in the backfield .

  8. Anonymous

    January 6, 2024 at 8:32 pm

    To help avoid future confusion, please, everyone get registered at whatever level you feel qualified to officiate (high school, College, Professional) so you can work these games and show everyone how easy it is to be perfect on every play. It’s been reported that there is a nationwide shortage of officials, which has obviously resulted in officials being promoted that aren’t ready or as good a you are.

  9. Anonymous

    January 6, 2024 at 9:02 pm

    This whole thing is ridiculous. Clearly Decker reported but Allen chose to ignore him. Everyone is clamoring that the Lions were trying to deceive the defense. Well, of that’s the case, why isn’t the defense required to report who will be blitzing on any play?
    This situation was caused by Allen and no one else
    He chose to ignore Decker.

  10. Anonymous

    January 6, 2024 at 9:43 pm

    If Skipper was announced to to the defense and over the PA to the stadium, it’s on the Lions to notice that their play won’t work. Why does no one mention this? No sympathy for Detroit here.

  11. John

    January 6, 2024 at 10:11 pm

    The Detroit coach admitted that the 3 linemen were sent over to the ref to try to confuse the Cowboys . Instead, it confused the ref. This attempt at skirting the rules backfired and the Detroit coach is to blame

  12. Anonymous

    January 6, 2024 at 10:32 pm

    I don’t understand how it can be a trick play if they have to notify the defense. I understand notifying the ref so they are aware but if the defense is aware it seems it would take all surprise away

  13. Anonymous

    January 6, 2024 at 11:50 pm

    Didn’t the lions hear the announcement of who was eligible

  14. Anonymous

    January 7, 2024 at 12:42 am

    This crew had already had at least 2 pass interference “no calls” in other games. Biggest was against the Chiefs a week earlier. A very high potential game outcome changer. The crew is not qualified to officiate professional football. Now this situation comes up. This crew should be fired not down graded!

  15. Anonymous

    January 7, 2024 at 1:16 am

    I feel like I’m taking crazy pills reading this piece.

    1. Hand up is not the signal for reporting eligible. Skipper putting his hand up for a split second 25 yds from Allen shouldn’t matter at all.
    2. Skipper is a long ways away from Allen. There’s zero chance the official heard a verbal report from him.
    3. The Lions have said that no one could hear the announcement of the incorrect ineligible player.
    4. Why is it so hard to believe that Allen – after having only Skipper report previously – made an assumption and was wrong?? I don’t think we should crucify the guy but it’s clear he made a mistake.
    5. Attempting to deceive the defense in a way that doesn’t break the rules is not and should not be reason for a penalty. How are you using this as an excuse for the official getting a call wrong??

  16. Anonymous

    January 7, 2024 at 2:27 am

    How about now, when the ref almost made a huge mistake in the pit/balt game?

  17. Anonymous

    January 7, 2024 at 5:13 am

    Unfortunately however, the fans have been completely left out of the NFL rules. The fans should be the first to know who’s eligible or not so they can understand the action on the field. IMO, the eligible receivers should have different colored helmets or something that clearly distinguishes them when watching the game. This would make the game much more visually appealing and understandable to the fans.

  18. Anonymous

    January 7, 2024 at 7:50 am

    First time reading this site. Wow, you really are an apologist for the refs. You did say Decker yelled reporting but I noticed you didn’t add the video angles from Sewell and Decker back left where they were walking over to Allen and you can see Decker slapping/swiping his chest (#s). So Decker verbally and physically announced he was eligible. Allen assumed he was reporting for Skipper. How ridiculous of an excuse. Allen screwed up, everyone should just admit it.

    Yes, Lions got cute by half and it backfired but procedurally they did everything correct, from reporting eligible to formation of the line. Allen made the mistake and announced the wrong guy. Yes we are all human, yes we are all make mistakes but this is his job. There has to be accountability and the first part of accountability is admitting Allen made a mistake.

  19. Get fit

    January 7, 2024 at 10:17 am

    Decker was on a podcast and admitted he was reporting as part of a 12 personnel package, not as an eligible receiver. So why did goff throw the ball to him? Plus the other infractions that occurred on the play makes this whole argument a moot point.

  20. Anonymous

    January 7, 2024 at 10:20 am

    Also, Allen apparently did not listen well before the game to understand what the trick play was. Another mistake.

  21. Mrs. Yagi

    January 7, 2024 at 11:21 am

    The refs screwed up. The NFL only wants their favorite teams to win.

  22. Me

    January 7, 2024 at 11:55 am

    In the NCAA, using substitution to deceive is unsportsmanlike conduct. While I realize this isn’t the NCAA, that’s essentially what happened here. Sending 3 linemen to the referee when only one intends to report eligible should be illegal. Let’s be one can hear the referee’s announcement in the heat of the

  23. Anonymous

    January 7, 2024 at 1:19 pm

    It’s clear to everybody the refs made a mistake. Nice try though.

  24. Anonymous

    January 7, 2024 at 1:29 pm


  25. Anonymous

    January 7, 2024 at 2:01 pm

    Stop covering for a corrupt ref. I would love to know if, A.) Jerry Jones bribed him -or- B.) Ref made some bets and wanted to make sure he could cash out.

  26. Anonymous

    January 7, 2024 at 2:34 pm

    Nice try covering for this incompetent ref. Just do what Jim Joyce did vs the Tigers. Admit you f’d up, apologize and we will all move on from the fact it caused us the 2nd seed and home field in rd 2 and millions of dollars.

  27. Anonymous

    January 7, 2024 at 7:35 pm

    It’s all BS POLITICS! and geared for the more popular team with higher sales to win!

  28. RPVAN

    January 7, 2024 at 9:26 pm

    If you can’t reply in plain English without profanity you show your ignorance and shouldn’t ever be allowed to post or say anything in public.

  29. Anonymous

    January 8, 2024 at 5:45 am

    Everyone who thinks it’s rigged is out of their mind. If the league was rigging things so the Cowboys would win, why haven’t they been to the Super Bowl or even a conference championship game since the mid-90s? And there have been some really good Cowboys teams in that span. Why did they say Dez didn’t catch the ball in Green Bay?
    Blame Brad Allen all you want, but there are two glaring issues: it is unfathomable to expect the officiating crew to be a part of a given team’s trick plays; the only reason 68 is even open on that play is because he was not announced as an eligible receiver. If he’s announced to the defense, he’s not roaming around in the end zone by himself.
    You can disagree with that last part, but Dan Campbell loves to go for 2 and he also loves to you use lineman as eligible receiver’s. There’s plenty of film on that for an opposing team.

  30. Anonymous

    January 8, 2024 at 4:09 pm

    I’m sorry but this was a stupid way to try and “trick” the defense, and it obviously backfired. You can say that Allen should’ve listened better and not screwed it up, but the fact is that the Lions’ coach admitted he was trying to deceive the defense and he screwed his team.

  31. Tony Dehn

    January 10, 2024 at 3:08 pm

    Ben, Please show me in the rule book were it stipulates who and how many players can approach the referee. Or, show me where it states that three lineman cannot approach at the same time. As far as the three penalties, two that were not accepted; would those have been penalties if Brad Allen had interpreted who was reporting correctly? In other words, would those penalties still have been penalties if Taylor Decker reported? Trickery is a part of every NFL play. To say that gamesmanship was the reason for Brad Allen’s confusion, is disingenuous. He does not have to play a part in subterfuge, but he does have to pay attention to who is talking to him. Even Dean Blandino has spoken out to say that the Detroit Lions did nothing wrong. Brad Allen was moving too fast and became confused. Just admit it, apologize and move on. But, don’t perpetuate the mistake by making arguments that border on absurd. We are not the idiots that you believe us to be.

  32. Anonymous

    January 13, 2024 at 5:48 pm

    Anyone claiming that the lineman wouldn’t have been open if he had reported is out of their minds. You can clearly see on lineup that the defense focused on where the eligible receivers were on the line, after the ref walked over and told them! Add in that it’s hard to believe that a designed play would’ve included an illegal formation intentionally.

    The “analysis” here is superficial at best and neglects to put any onus on the referee to clarify the situation prior to the play. It would have taken him all of 5 seconds — why is that so hard to expect? And there is nothing wrong with multiple individuals going towards the ref when only one is reporting.

    The fact that “trick” plays even need to be discussed with refs ahead of time is hardly of consequence. What it comes down to is a ref who has consistently blown calls and been suspended for them in other games, to the point where he will not be returning. Now it’s just up to the NFL to fix the situation faster.

  33. Alan Scott

    January 15, 2024 at 11:09 am

    The refs got this one 100% correct, the whole point of the reporting rules is so that the defense knows who is eligible – you are simply not allowed to hide that. The whole basis for the Lions trick is nonsense as would have been pointed out pre-game if they had clearly explained it then!

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