When it comes to the renewed emphasis on illegal contact and defensive holding, the league office has been acting like that dad who threatens to turn this car around and go home. The teams and players have been the kids sitting in the back seat, continuing to push the old man’s buttons in order to see whether he really means it.
With 230 defensive holding and illegal contact penalties called through 49 preseason games (4.69 per game), the question becomes whether that rate will continue once the regular season begins. One of the more influential owners in the NFL has declared publicly that he hopes it won’t.
“I think it’s fair to say there’s concern around the league about [the increase in penalties] and I think that the point has been made by the officials,” Art Rooney II said, via Scott Brown of ESPN.com. “I hope we’re going to get back to a more normal number of penalties per game.”
Rooney believes that the officials have been calling defensive holding and illegal contact more zealously in the preseason, in the hopes of sending a message that players and coaches must adjust.
“I think that’s been the history that you’ve seen things called in the preseason more than you’ve sometimes in the regular season when they’ve decided to make a point,” Rooney said. “That’s been the pattern that I’ve noticed in the past so we’ll see if that holds true this year.”
The league insists, however, that the fouls will be called the same way once the real games start. Which means that, at a minimum, Rooney is disrupting the ruse.
“I don’t think anybody’s trying to increase the number of penalties or the number of stoppages in games,” Rooney said. “It will go up and down depending on a game, but on the whole I think we need to hopefully get back to something that’s more like we had last year in terms of number of penalties per game.”
A cynic would say that, given the quality of the cornerbacks on the team Rooney owns, Rooney hopes that a certain amount of down-the-field hand fighting and pushing and shoving and tugging will be permitted. Otherwise, the Steelers will be giving up an uncharacteristically high numbers of points.
Regardless, the rules are the rules. (Profound, I know.) Officials don’t throw flags for the exercise value of it. Generally speaking, if players don’t commit penalties, penalties aren’t called. So even though fans and media will blame the men in black and white, flags during the regular season will reflect that the coaches and players have failed to adjust to the rules.