Lining Up Correctly
An offense may have up to four backs on a play. One will always be the quarterback, and then three other players may be off the line of scrimmage. At the professional level, there is currently no real reason why this would not be done on every play. Putting more players on the line of scrimmage decreases the number of eligible receivers, and there is very little or no benefit. Any player is defined as on the line of scrimmage if his helmet intersects the plane of the centers waist. Functionally however, this rule is more fluid. Any player who signals (arm back) that they are off the line of scrimmage, will be treated as off the line of scrimmage. Players ineligible by position and number are also given a degree of leeway on being close enough to the centers waist, as officials are instructed to try as hard as possible to not flag these penalties. However, the officials must heavily scrutinize unusual formations to check for legality, and lining up well is one of those things that shows good coaching and good football. The Broncos invited a lot of trouble this game with their offensive formations.
This is a terrible formation. There are only three backs. While lining up, Dulcich (the inner tight end on the left of the formation) appears to signal he is a back, but then he puts his hand down and moves up closer to the line than left tackle Calvin Anderson next to him. Jerry Jeudy at the bottom of the screen is who I think is supposed to be off the line here, but he is not selling it at all. Occasional sloppiness can happen, but this formation screams run behind Dulcich, which it was. The Ravens were prepared and stopped it. This is legal, but incorrect. From an officiating perspective, the problem with this kind of sloppiness is that until the officials understand who is supposed to be where on the offense, they focus on the offensive formation. This will naturally result in an increase in offensive penalties for false start, illegal formation, and ineligible downfield.
This example from right before halftime is a horrendous formation. At the top of the screen Kendal Hinton is signaling he is off the line, despite clearly being on it and supposed to be on it. Neither offensive tackle is legally lined up, and Brandon Johnson, the bottom wide receiver is barely on the line. At least three offensive players are not in the right position to succeed here, and the officials could have easily flagged this. They chose to let the play go, as teams that do not line up correctly generally have poor outcomes. Wilson was under fast pressure on the play, and threw the ball away. This was in a running clock after a successful play with under a minute to go and three timeouts remaining. Denver desperately needed to call time out and did not. Instead they wasted first down and burned a timeout on fourth and one trying to get the defense offsides. The officials let the Broncos hurt themselves rather than penalizing them, and this was by no means the only time this game that it happened.
The officials did a good job of policing roughness this game. There were three notable fourth quarter situations that they handled well. The first was a punt return by Baltimore where Jonathon Cooper had a big hit near the Baltimore sideline and they went wild. He clearly initiated inbounds and did a great job of selling that he was backing off. This should always be a no-call, but the officials did get it right.
On the Ravens final drive, Huntley got hit low as he ran out to the sideline. The Ravens again asked for a call, and they were again denied. This was correct. If Huntley was the type of QB who gave himself up, this type of play might have been called a foul. But he showed throughout the game that he was going to aggressively fight for extra yards, and so the officials responded by not giving him the benefit of the doubt. A lot of commentators and fans complain about this standard because it means that QBs like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning received extra protection, and with roughing the passer calls, I tend to agree with the critics. But on running plays like we saw in this game, the officials make good compromises in protecting players who want to not fight for extra yards while allowing the defense to defend those players who do want to fight. This was a great procedure.
The last unnecessary roughness worth discussing was a targeting on Alex Singleton. Running back Justice Hill had just caught a pass, and was in the arms of Damarri Mathis. He had no ability to defend himself and was going to the ground when Singleton clearly initiated a helmet to helmet hit. This penalty was so obvious it could be used for teaching targeting calls.
You Make The Call
Is this a penalty?
This poll is closed
Yes: Block in the Back on Bal #41 (Bottom of screen)
No: It did not impact the play
I noted four calls Denver could have challenged in the game. On the first and second Denver drives of the game, second down gains came close to the line to gain and were marked short. Denver converted the third down on the first drive. The spot was not strong, but it appeared that Denver was short of the line to gain. On the next drive it appeared equally likely that the ball was down beyond the line to gain, and Denver failed to convert on the next play. Denver did not challenge in the game and had two remaining timeouts going into half. Either of these could have been a solid challenge, and particularly the second one seemed worth the time.
On Baltimore's final drive of the game, there were another two challengeable calls - the first fourth down conversion and the incomplete pass/fumble two plays later. Both were reviewable, both were deep enough in Baltimore territory that a turnover would have likely meant at least three points for Denver, and both were borderline calls. The fourth down call probably was going to be upheld, but a timeout is probably worth less than the chance of making it a two score game. On the play ruled a pass, its not obvious that a pass occurred. Huntley’s arm was not clearly moving forward or in passing position, and so the chances of a fumble ruling were at least decent. Furthermore, even though it was ruled incomplete, a successful challenge would have allowed Denver to get the ball because Denver did clearly recover in the immediate aftermath of the ruling on the field. I would have given Denver even odds of winning this challenge, which considering how high leverage the situation was, should have been pursued.
The challenge reviews that occurred during the game seemed to arrive at good results. It was entertaining that on what the booth thought was a review of a Jeudy catch was announced as a review of the spot of the ball.
The officiating was ok in this game. I liked the work of referee Alex Kemp and umpire Mike Morton. Deep officials John Jenkins, Dale Shaw, and Scott Helverson did a solid job as well, though I felt that they sometimes were a bit too by the book. However I did not like the work of down judge Danny Short nor of line judge Jeff Bergman. The biggest issue was with spotting the ball. They displayed a tendency to mark running plays a bit short, which was done equally for each side and so a bit annoying but perfectly fine. However their spots on passes five or more yards downfield were inconsistent. They seemed to be both arbitrary in their accuracy, in random directions, and with a false sense of precision. One of the reasons why its a good idea for officials to round their spots consistently to create fairness. They did not round, and did also did not give us particularly good spots.