By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Everyone’s a critic, especially when it comes to the NFL and its rules. I know. But there’s something that’s been bugging me for some time, and what better time and place to put it out there than right here and right now?
My beef is concerning personal foul penalties. You see, these are — in theory — the most egregious fouls in the game. Unnecessary roughness … quite unnecessary! Unsportsmanlike conduct … be more of a sportsman, would you?! Roughing the passer … too rough! Chop block … try blocking like a man, up here, bucko! Horse-collar tackle … what do you think this is, a dang rodeo?! Facemask … that’s there only for protection, sir!
You get it. The penalty is 15 yards because more often than not, you’ve done something so violent or dangerous that you’ve needlessly put an opponent’s health at risk.
But I’ve noticed something in recent years that really raised my eyebrows: personal foul penalties committed by defensive players close to their own goal line.
Two postseasons ago, it became somewhat of a common occurrence. In the 2015 AFC title game in Denver, Brandon Bolden caught a pass from Tom Brady and was tripped up from behind, causing him to stumble down at the 2-yard line. Safety T.J. Ward saw the downed opponent as an opportunity to spear him:
This violation — football’s version of a flagrant foul — cost the Broncos exactly one yard.
It took place again two weeks later in the Super Bowl, when Corey Brown was running up the sideline before getting his facemask twisted all the way around by Aqib Talib at the 2-yard line:
Once again, the penalty was enforced on the 2-yard line, costing the Broncos exactly one yard.
It’s not just the defense, either. In that same postseason, punt returner Danny Amendola demolished a Chiefs player who was trying to down a punt in the playoffs two years ago? That was a … 2-yard penalty. Instead of starting their drive at their own 4-yard line, the Patriots started at their own 2-yard line. That’s hardly a penalty at all.
I remember several years ago, at the end of the famed Butt Fumble Game, when then-Patriots cornerback Alfonzo Dennard was tagged with an unnecessary roughness penalty at the 2-yard line, costing his team a whole yard.
And it reared its head again two Thursdays ago, when Robert Woods caught a pass for the Rams and was laid out by 49ers safety Jimmie Ward. The defensive back was hit with an unnecessary roughness penalty. It went for a whole two yards.
This, to me, represents a problem that’s worth fixing. It’s the equivalent of a basketball player getting fouled, but the rules stating that he’s not allowed to take his free throws because of the random occurrence of where it took place on the court. Or like a hockey player only having to serve 60 seconds of his five-minute fighting major because the fight took place in the far corner from his own net. It’d be weird.
Admittedly, the problem is not simple to fix. It wouldn’t be fair, really, to give the offense a touchdown if a 15-yard penalty were committed inside of the 15-yard line. Scoring should be more difficult than that. At the same time, if an offensive lineman commits a holding penalty in his own end zone, it is a safety. So awarding points on a penalty is something that does already exist in the rulebook.
Also, if Team B commits the foul on defense, you can’t just tack it on when they next get the ball, either. What if team B takes the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown? Do the points come off the board while the ball is placed at the 15-yard line? What happens if Team A turns the ball over after the penalty? Can Team A keep the penalty handy, like a “Free Spin” in Wheel Of Fortune? Plus, how long can Team B keep those free 15 yards in the bank? Is there an expiration date? And what if time runs out in the game without the penalty yards ever being factored in? Things could get wonky.
But right now, in a league that pretends to care about player safety, players have no disincentive to not brutally harm an opponent inside their own 5-yard line. In some cases if it’s a star player, injuring him would be well worth the 2-yard penalty. (That’s, you know, ignoring the ethical component, which doesn’t usually factor in to decisions made on football fields.) And though Danny Trevathan was issued a two-game suspension for his hit on Davante Adams, the reality is that similar/identical hits go unpunished much more often than they draw the ire of the league office. Trevathan’s suspension certainly won’t be a deterrent for violence.
One idea for a solution could require the player who commits the penalty to miss a certain number of snaps — say, arbitrarily, five — if a personal foul results in anything less than a 10-yard penalty. (Hey, build a little penalty box and sell the naming rights. Money. Hello. Hi, Money. Nice to see you again.)
In the case of the Amendola playoff penalty, maybe the punting team should be given the 15-yard penalty and a free first down. If roughing the punter gives the punting team a free first down, it’s not necessarily absurd to give the same penalty when it’s the gunner who is roughed. Though maybe that’s not a great idea.
It’s also a problem on the other side of the ball with less-severe infractions. If an offense has the football at its own 1-yard line, a false start penalty only moves the ball back about 18 inches. Why not extend the sticks and make it a first-and-15 instead of a first-and-10.1?
That problem seems much easier to fix than its defensive counterpart. But it might be worth looking into it for the league. If a star player gets injured, and the only punishment is a whopping one yard, folks might get upset. It might even make the evening news programs.
So there you go. Problem addressed, problem semi-solved. That’s what I’m here for. Oh, and also for making picks.
(Home team in CAPS; Wednesday lines)
TAMPA BAY (+5.5) over New England
Only the Patriots could make you even think about going the other way with this, after the trainwreck of a defensive performance we saw on Sunday. But only the Patriots have a knack for somehow turning those catastrophic-looking losses into springboards that send them on to a Super Bowl? I don’t know, it’s very confusing and quite distressing to try to determine when that sharp turn happens.
But the defense looked so clueless on Sunday that I’m erring on the side of them not figuring everything out in a matter of 100 hours or so.
NEW YORK GIANTS (-3.5) over Los Angeles Chargers
Finally, the answer to the question: “What would it look like if two 0-4 teams — one with zero fans, the other without a head coach — played each other in Week 5?” I’ve been waiting my whole life for this moment.
PHILADELPHIA (-6.5) over Arizona
The Cardinals can’t compete with good teams. The Eagles are a good team. Hey that was an easy one.
INDIANAPOLIS (-1.5) over San Francisco
Tell you what, I felt like the cat’s pajamas for quite some time last Sunday night, rather satisfied with myself for taking the Colts +13. My smug smile radiated so bright that it could be seen from miles away. “Everybody, come look at me!” I yelled as the Colts took a 15-10 into halftime. I had an 18-point cushion and the Seattle offense stunk. I was golden.
And then, well, Seattle casually outscored Indianapolis 36-3 in the second half. And that was that.
At least I had Washington +7 on Monday night to make up for it, right? When I shut the TV off after that go-ahead field goal with 4 seconds left, the smug smile came back. It’s always nice to end the week with a win on Monday night. Boy, am I great at picking games or what?
(For real though, the end of that Redskins-Chiefs game is why your money should always remain in your pocket. It was the J. Walter Weatherman of NFL gambling.)
Jacksonville (+9) over PITTSBURGH
Where is the respect for #MyJags? This is atrocious. The Jags defense can play. The Steelers’ offense? Uninspiring. Give me all of those points, please.
Buffalo (+3) over CINCINNATI
I don’t know if I’m ready to live in a world where the Bills are good again. I’m very unsure about this. Though the Bengals are overdue to be 1-4, so it all kind of evens out.
New York Jets (Pick ’em) over CLEVELAND
Here’s Week 5, in one tweet:
MIAMI (+1) over Tennessee
You think picking NFL games is easy? Do you? You do, don’t you? You son of a gun. Well how’s this right here: The Titans are coming off a 57-14 loss to a roookie quarterback, and they lost their own starting quarterback to injury. The Dolphins are coming off a 20-0 loss in London in which they gained 186 yards. Total. They picked up 10 first downs. Total. Good gravy.
So yeah, with the Titans quarterback situation in flux, there’s no line yet. But does it matter? Is there really a right choice with this one? There is not. That’s what I’m here to tell you: There. Is. Not.
DETROIT (-2.5) over Carolina
The Panthers are in for a rude awakening when the opposing team actually covers their receivers.
Baltimore (+2.5) over OAKLAND
If we know one thing about the Raiders, it’s that Jack Del Rio is not afraid to go Dad Casual on the sidelines:
Also, like most teams, they can’t survive a QB injury.
Seattle (+1.5) over LOS ANGELES RAMS
The Seahawks are 0-2 on the road. But playing in front of a half-empty, half-enthused Coliseum is hardly a road game.
DALLAS (-1.5) over Green Bay
I guess it comes down to what you think about the Dallas Cowboys. Do you think, after a 13-3 season, that they’re just going to be mediocre this year? Or do you think they’ll snap out of it?
I tend to think the latter, and that it’ll begin this week.
HOUSTON (+1.5) over Kansas City
These two AFC teams are playing a bit over their skis at the moment. They’re both good, yes. But the Texans aren’t really a 54-point kind of team. And the Chiefs probably aren’t really the best team in the NFL.
But you are what your record says you are, and right now the Chiefs are top dog. I do think this will present a challenge for them. They’re on a short week, they’re traveling, they’re coming off an emotional game, and they’re tasked with stopping Deshaun Watson fairly early in his career, before anyone else has established a way to limit him. Add in the Houston defense that has been pretty good, and it’s enough to feel good about taking the points at home.
Minnesota (-3) over CHICAGO
Headline writers around the country might as well get their “Monday Night Football ratings drop significantly” fingers ready, because this one’s going to be a doozy.
Last week: 9-6