More contact in pass coverage is fine with Birds defense

The ref swallowed his whistle on this play in the Eagles-Cardinals game Sunday. Birds wide receiver Riley Cooper had drawn a pass-interference penalty late in the second quarter when Cardinals CB Jerraud Powers shielded him from a pass in the end zone. Later in the game, though, Powers likely got away with one when he grabbed Cooper's arm and didn't look back at the ball. "Yeah, there was some contact," Cooper said.
The ref swallowed his whistle on this play in the Eagles-Cardinals game Sunday. Birds wide receiver Riley Cooper had drawn a pass-interference penalty late in the second quarter when Cardinals CB Jerraud Powers shielded him from a pass in the end zone. Later in the game, though, Powers likely got away with one when he grabbed Cooper's arm and didn't look back at the ball. "Yeah, there was some contact," Cooper said. (NFL)
Posted: December 05, 2013

After most of the locker room had cleared out on Sunday, Jason Avant sat at his stall with a few reporters and said he believed that Tyrann Mathieu held him on the pivotal penalty that negated an interception thrown by Nick Foles.

But he said he wouldn't have been surprised if the official had swallowed his whistle on a hold that occurred away from the ball.

"Based on this year's definition of holding, I don't know," Avant said after the Eagles' 24-21 squeaker over the Cardinals. "In previously years, all of that stuff was flagged, but not this year."

Most agree: NFL officials have allowed for more clutching and grabbing between defensive backs and wide receivers this season. There's always subjectivity when it comes to the calling of pass interference, but some players and coaches are complaining about the inconsistency of the calls.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians told Arizona reporters on Monday that his team had sent 15 questionable calls/non-calls to the league office for review. This is common practice in the NFL, but it is hardly ever publicized by coaches.

Arians seemed to have an argument on some plays, including the Cardinals' final one on offense in which Bradley Fletcher made contact with receiver Michael Floyd before the ball arrived. But there were also several dubious calls that went against the Eagles.

"I try not to get into the officiating," Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said Tuesday when he was asked about the Fletcher-Floyd play. "The officiating always levels out. Through the course of the season, you win some, you lose some. They do a good job out there. We'll never be the ones to complain."

Davis agreed, however, that allowing more contact has benefited the Eagles defense. Fletcher and his counterpart, Cary Williams, are rangy cornerbacks who often use their hands to compensate for lack of speed.

Fletcher has been called for pass interference a team-high four times this season and Williams has been flagged three times. But neither drew a penalty on Sunday, although dime cornerback Roc Carmichael was called for interference in the fourth quarter.

"That's what you like as a [defensive back], man," Williams said. "You want to be as physical as possible to try to make the game as physical as possible. . . . I think that's why we've got the shoulder pads and helmet on."

Davis and other players said the league offered nothing before the season about loosening the restrictions on physical play. It has been a feeling-out process that Davis and Fletcher said changes from game to game.

"We tell the [defensive backs] and the guys in coverage, 'Learn how they are calling this particular game, how is this crew calling this game and if they are allowing more, then do more; if they are not allowing more, then do less,' " Davis said.

While Davis said it was "obvious" that officials were permitting more contact, Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said that he hadn't seen a difference this season. Even if both sides have been given leeway, defensive players would naturally have the advantage because they aren't as preoccupied with the ball as are receivers.

"It's something we have to acclimate to," Eagles receiver Riley Cooper said. "But that's good. I'd rather have that - letting players play than every play they're throwing a flag."

Cooper drew a pass-interference penalty late in the second quarter when Cardinals cornerback Jerraud Powers shielded him away from a pass in the end zone. Later in the game, though, Powers likely got away with one when he grabbed Cooper's arm and didn't look back at the ball.

"Yeah, there was some contact," Cooper said.

Defensive pass-interference penalties are down this season, but only marginally. Officials are calling them 16.8 times per week as opposed to 17.4 times last year. (The Eagles lead the league with 12.)

The biggest shift has been in the number of illegal-contact calls made on a weekly basis - almost less than half as many as last year (2.8 to 5.1).

"If the ball is not thrown in your direction, it's not holding," Avant said. "So if you're running a route and you're the primary receiver and the quarterback says, 'OK, he's being held. Well, let me go to another receiver,' and he throws over there, that's not considered holding to them because the ball usually has to be thrown your way."

Foles' fourth-quarter pass was not intended for Avant, though. It was for DeSean Jackson, who also had a legitimate gripe that Patrick Peterson held him before he intercepted the throw.

But Avant was just beyond Jackson and either drew the flag because the official thought he was the intended receiver or because he happened to be within the official's line of vision.

Either way, Avant thought it was a good call.

"Oh, of course," he said. "Of course."

Arians and the Cardinals had another opinion.


jmclane@phillynews.com

@Jeff_McLane

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