I understand that the NFL is currently facing significant challenges that outweigh the issue I’m about to discuss.
However, it’s crucial to address the problem I’m highlighting.
I’d like to draw your attention to an issue on the field that has escalated beyond reasonable bounds—a subtlety within the game that may have gone unnoticed had I not raised it.
Defensive linemen are capitalizing on a rule change implemented by the league in 2010, and this practice must be addressed and rectified.
In 2010, the league made a significant change to the positioning of one of its officiating crew members.
The umpire, who used to line up 4 to 5 yards behind the defensive line, had this advantageous vantage point to accurately observe hand placement to determine interior line holding on both sides better. This adjustment seemed logical, right?
However, the league relocated the umpire into the offensive backfield alongside the referee, citing “safety concerns” as the driving force behind the change.
They assured that umpires would undergo retraining to fulfill their responsibilities effectively.
While there’s no doubt that these officials received retraining, it appears they’re still missing crucial details.
I anticipated that this change would lead to an increase in offensive holding calls and a decrease in spotted defensive lineman holding, given their altered positioning.
As anticipated, in the season following the alteration, offensive holding calls surged by approximately 70, while instances of defensive lineman holding plummeted to a mere 10!
You might wonder why a defensive lineman would hold an offensive lineman.
They do it to create openings for linebackers in the run game and to assist a fellow defensive lineman executing a stunt or twist in the passing game.
If you watch Justin Smith in action, you’ll witness a perfect illustration of what I’m explaining.
He’s a true master at this, and we’ve had numerous encounters on the field over the years.
For concrete evidence, let’s examine the recent SF/Chicago game from a few weeks back.
In the first quarter, Justin Smith clearly engages in holding against the left guard in the following two instances, yet it goes uncalled—not because the officials overlook it, but because they simply can’t see it.
Nothing was more exasperating than hearing an umpire tell me, “It looks like you got held, but I just can’t see it.”
I’d think, OK, then perhaps they should consider removing that form of holding from the rulebook—except there are instances when it does get called.
During the final two minutes of the first half and the initial five minutes of the second half, the umpire reverts to his previous position.
Let’s revisit the Niners/Bears game in a two-minute situation. Can you guess what unfolds next? Indeed, Justin Smith ends up being flagged for holding!
Essentially, the league’s stance appears: “Go ahead and hold, except in the closing moments of each half.”
Really? It’s a case of either enforcing it consistently or not at all. Relying on unwritten rules doesn’t provide solutions; it exacerbates the problems.
Players and coaches are simply seeking uniformity in officiating. I appreciate the safety concern; I genuinely do.
So, here’s a suggestion: why not place the most agile official in the umpire position?
Just because they’re tasked with overseeing the big players doesn’t mean they have to resemble them or move like them.
During the summer, NFL VP of officiating Dean Blandino mentioned, “We don’t feel like we’re missing much more than in the past.”
He then acknowledged that discussions had started regarding the addition of another official.
If there’s no significant oversight occurring, why the push for an extra official?
The truth is, the league is aware of their misstep and is now working to rectify it—a trend that seems to be occurring all too frequently in the NFL as of late.