The game of football has a lot of rules that we love to argue about incessantly. One of the most fun conversations is figuring out whether the penalty matches the crime.
Pass interference is always talked about. It’s a spot foul against the defense, but only ten yards for the offense. Is that fair? Should we reward Joe Flacco for throwing the ball up for grabs six times a game and coming away with two 40-yard penalties? Is that football?
Personally, I actually lean toward the current structure. After all, if it’s only a 15-yard penalty like it is in college, what is to stop defensive backs from purposefully tackling guys when they get beat? I like the rule the way it is.
But something happened in the Super Bowl on Sunday that got me thinking. Is there another rule that is potentially much more crippling to the game than pass interference?
Twelve men on the field.
Image source: Deadspin
12 Men On The Field at Super Bowl XLVI
Let me walk you through the situation.
In the final minute of the game on Sunday night, Tom Brady was frantically trying to lead the Pats on a late comeback drive. After converting an incredible 4th and 16, the Pats hurried up to the line of scrimmage and spiked it. After a short completion, they quickly ran another play and the Giants were late subbing some defenders off the field. A flag was thrown, and the Patriots got a “free play.” Brady ran around a little bit and threw a long bomb that went incomplete. New England received a five yard gift from the officials.
Unfortunately for them, the damage was done. Even though they got a “free play,” the clock kept running. Even though the penalty stopped the clock, the incompletion would have done that anyway.
Basically, the Giants could have played the entire play with an extra guy on the field, and the WORST case scenario was that they would give up five yards of field position.
So let me ask this: Why shouldn’t the Giants have just played with 12 men on EVERY SINGLE PLAY of the drive?
Let’s say the Giants chose to come out with 4 linemen, 3 linebackers, and 5 defensive backs on every single play. Don’t they have a much better chance of stopping the Patriots with that extra guy? Couldn’t they double Wes Welker AND Aaron Hernandez? Wouldn’t they have a great opportunity to bat the ball down, or better yet, intercept a pass and run all over the field eating up the clock?
So what, you have to give the ball back and give the Patriots five more yards because of the penalty. But hasn’t the damage been done?
Suppose the Patriots still DO complete a 15-yard pass. Ok, so they decline the penalty. I still like my chances playing with 12 men.
Close The 12-Men Loophole
In other sports, playing with too many men results in SEVERE penalties.
In basketball, the team is charged with a technical foul. The other team gets a free opportunity at points AND they get the ball.
In hockey, it draws a two-minute minor. For the next two minutes of the game, your team has to play a man down.
In football? You surrender five yards. Nothing else.
UPDATE: Apparently (thanks to a reader), the NFL rulebook does contain a very vague reference to this situation that falls under the “UNFAIR ACTS” section of the rulebook. I have personally yet to find it, but according to @mrandrewhaer, if a team commits this more than 1x, it becomes a 15 yard penalty. Sure, that’s a BETTER fix, but the problem still remains – the offensive team can never get that time back.
For most of the game, the penalty matches the crime. Usually, a team is penalized because, in the Giants’ case, a defensive lineman is just a little slow hustling off the field. The team isn’t purposefully playing with extra guys.
But there are PLENTY of instances where the penalty changes late in the half or game.
When an offensive team is penalized in the last two minutes, time is run off the clock. That way, linemen can’t purposefully flinch and sacrifice five yards in order to stop the clock. What a great adjustment to the circumstances of a game.
The same alteration needs to be done for the Twelve-Men penalty. Keep the five-yard penalty, but give the other team a LEGITIMATE free play. Reset the clock after the play to where it was when the play started.
I’m a die-hard, Brady-hating Colts’ fan. And even I had to tell myself, “Wow, that wasn’t fair.”
Make the rule change, close the loophole, and let the game be played with integrity.