O’HARA: Players adjusting to penalty crackdown

Posted Aug 20, 2014

The Lions have been helped and hurt this preseason by tighter calls that led to game-winning touchdowns. But regardless of which way the calls go, the message is clear: Players have to adjust.

Eleven seasons of playing cornerback in the NFL have taught Rashean Mathis some tough lessons.

One of them is that nobody in the league’s hierarchy cares if defensive backs complain that rule changes make a tough job even harder.

In season No. 12 and his second with the Lions, the job has gotten even more difficult for Mathis because the league has made it a point of emphasis for officials to enforce more strict rules for pass interference and defensive holding.

Rashean MathisCB Rashean Mathis (Photo: Gavin Smith)

In the first two preseason games, the Lions have been helped and hurt by the tighter calls on drives that led to game-winning touchdowns. But regardless of which way the calls go, Mathis says the message is clear: players have to adjust.

“Like you do with any rules or laws that are given, you take heed to them and adjust to them, and you work around them,” Mathis said. “We have to apply the rules within our games, and we have to be able to play fast and adjust accordingly.

“Are we smiling about them? No.

“Can we change them? No.

“Do we still have to play football? Yes.”

Safety Glover Quin says defensive backs can get flag-shy, and wonder if a good play will hold up or be nullified by a penalty flag.

“Sometimes when you make a good play or somebody else makes a good play, you kind of look around and hope there’s not a flag on the field somewhere,” Quin said. “You can’t play the game worrying about flags.”

Anything that makes life harder for the defense helps the offense, and the trend in recent years has been to help the offense.

“I think everyone is understanding of what kind of league it is,” said quarterback Dan Orlovsky. “It’s a league that people enjoy watching points scored and records broken, and passing yards up and down the field.

“I’m not going to say it’s 50-50 or completely fair. It is what it is. We as quarterbacks and receivers probably enjoy it a little bit more than the defensive guys.”

Despite the blizzard of penalties in the first two full weeks of the preseason, there is no indication that the league will tell officials to pull back on strict enforcement of penalties for holding, interference and illegal contact. The league’s aim is to give players more freedom downfield and eliminate clutching and grabbing by defenders.

Dean Blandino, the NFL’s vice-president of officiating, has said in media reports this week that the way officials are calling penalties in the preseason is not an experiment. They will be called the same way in the regular season.

In Week 2 of the preseason, officials called an average of a little more than 20 penalties per game, compared to a little more than 12 per game in the 2013 regular season.

In the first two weeks, the Lions have been on both ends of the calls as follows:

Game 1: In a 13-12 victory over Cleveland, the game-winning drive officially covered 50 yards in four plays. However, that did not include holding penalties against the Browns on three of the first four plays that wiped out two incomplete passes and an interception and gave the Lions automatic first downs.

Game 2 : In the 27-26 loss at Oakland, the Raiders’ drive to their first touchdown was kept alive when Mathis and Bill Bentley both were called for holding on an incomplete pass on a third-and-eight situation.

Oakland converted two third downs on penalties on pass plays that were incomplete. Jonte Green was flagged for holding on third and nine form Oakland’s 33. Nevin Lawson drew an interference call on third and six, giving Oakland 14 yards and a first down at the Lions’ 19.

Quin accepts that officials will enforce rules the way the league tells them to, but there are some cases when he thinks they should hold back.

“The ones that really get me are the ones that are on the left side of the field, and the quarterback is  throwing to the right side of the field,” Quin said. “It’s not even affecting the play. If it’s affecting the play, I can understand making the call. If it’s not even affecting the play, that’s nonsense.”