If it seems like an awful lot of flags have been thrown in the NFL preseason, that’s because they have been – to the tune of an average of almost 24 per game. That’s almost twice as many as the average number of flags thrown during the 2013 regular season (12.7 per game).
While the NFL wants to crack down on defensive holding and illegal contact downfield, it also wants games to retain their entertainment value. So far, this is proving to be a tough combination.
“You know it is,” former NFL referee Jim Daopolous said on The MoJo Show. “But come on, guys. It’s preseason. We got four weeks to watch this. This is the time when everybody’s in a worry mode. I was reading where Tony Vincent, who’s the Executive Vice President of Football Operations, talked about (how the) preseason (is) an opportunity to develop the officials, assist the players in adjusting to the rules and (help) the coaches (adjust to the rules) before this regular season starts.”
“That’s what’s going on right now. It’s a learning process. I think we’ve talked about this a little bit. It’s a point of emphasis. The NFL competition committee has said, ‘You know what? We want these receivers to run free out there. No grabbing, no banging. Let them run free.’ And it made it a point of emphasis, and the officials are doing exactly what the league has told them to do.”
But will they continue to do it in the regular season? According to Dean Blandino, Vice President of Officials, yes.
“I believe you can take Dean at his word that they are going to be consistent,” Daopolous said. “But I think what you’re going to see is, the coaches are going to coach these players up on what they can and cannot do – and the players that can adjust to what the officials are calling are the ones who are going to succeed out there. Because there’s a fine line between what you can call and what you shouldn’t call. I’ve always been of the opinion that you look for advantage and disadvantage. I think in the back of every official’s mind, that’s what they’re going to be looking for once the regular season starts.”
“But again, you don’t want the grabbing of the jersey, the bumping after five yards,” Daopolous continued. “The league wants more offense. They put the tools in, and they want more. Basically, whenever they make a rule change, it’s for one of two reasons: It’s to increase scoring or for safety purposes. So this isn’t really a rule change, but this is a point of emphasis.”
Daopolous said the NFL made this a point of emphasis several years ago after receiving complaints that New England’s secondary was bullying receivers. Referees became more strict as a result.
“The players adjusted to it,” Daopolous said. “That’s what’s going to happen. You’re not going to see 20 and 30 flags during the regular season, but they are not going to let them get away with illegal actions.”
It’s also worth noting that not all of the preseason officials are NFL officials (some are college officials being groomed for the professional ranks), and not all of the preseason players will make NFL rosters.
In other words, if you’re an annoyed fan, relax.
Said Daopolous, “(The refs are) doing exactly what the league has told them.”