Flag daze here to stay

Posted: August 20, 2014

THE THING we know about the NFL is that not only is it a league of adaptation, but it is also a league of adjustments.

For every measure that one side of the football gets to gain an advantage, the other side of the line will come up with a counter in an attempt to even up the odds.

So, no matter that it has made normally unwatchable preseason games unbearable because of a constant barrage of yellow hankies, the NFL has made it clear that it is not stepping away from the decision to emphasize enforcement of its rules against illegal contact.

"We're not going to change how we're calling the games once the regular season starts," Dean Blandino, NFL vice president of officiating, told The MMQB about the visible increase in illegal-contact penalties during the preseason. "The way the game's being officiated now is the way it's going to be officiated when the season begins.

"We have to remain consistent. I knew we'd see a spike in calls when we put out these points of emphasis. But coaches adjust and players adjust.

"They have to and they know it. We'll correct our officials when we feel they're being overzealous with certain calls. Plus, I would say that between 70 and 75 percent of the calls I've gotten from teams after their games this preseason are asking the question, why weren't there more calls? Why wasn't a foul called on this play?"

Players, particularly defensive backs, know the league means business. No matter how much they may gripe about another rule designed to swing the pendulum in favor of the offense, it is again falling on deaf ears.

"Everybody has to adjust, our defense, the other team's defense, all defensive backs," said Eagles cornerback Curtis Marsh. "So in that respect, it's fair.

"As our coaches say, just tell us the rules and we'll adjust to it."

Just as Chip Kelly said after the Eagles got flagged five times for either illegal contact or illegal use of the hands in their loss to New England on Friday, defensive coordinator Bill Davis re-emphasized yesterday that players who cannot make the adjustment to the rules and still be effective playmakers simply will not have a place in the NFL.

"You can't play," Davis said, about as bluntly as an NFL coach will say something. "If you cannot adjust to the rules, you cannot play.

"We looked at every penalty from the other night [as a team] and discussed how they affected us. If on this side of the field, you get off the field on third down, but over there a guy is grabbing cloth, you can't play, because you'll never get off the field.

"If we continually do the wrong thing and get penalized, then even if we are making plays defensively, drives get extended. You can't have that.

"They've told us how they are going to call it. We've got to stop breaking the rule. It is 100 percent on us as coaches and players."

With defensive backs barely able to breathe on receivers after they've gone 5 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, Marsh said one adjustment might be what cornerbacks do within the 5 yards they are legally permitted to make contact.

Not every defensive back is big enough or physical enough to effectively jam receivers at the line of scrimmage, but if you can't touch receivers past 5 yard, a corner will have to become more effective in impacting routes before then.

Without the ability to brush a receiver even a little bit after 5 yards, giving a cushion becomes a more risky style of playing.

"You can defend, but you have to work harder at the line of scrimmage," Marsh said. "That 5-yard radius, we have to work harder to get solid hands on. Then you control the receiver and dictate leverage and where he goes.

"It's a little bit harder. If you don't win at the line of scrimmage, it's going to make it more difficult. If you can find a way to win at the line of scrimmage, you can make effective plays."

It will be interesting to watch which defensive backs will make adjustments, and which ones will lose some of their effectiveness because they won't be able to be as physical with receivers.

"You cannot grab cloth, and once a receiver is out beyond 5 yards, you can't reach your arm out and even graze him," Davis re-emphasized. "We know it. We have to stop it in practice. We have to stop it in games.

"It's always been the rule. It's just a matter of how strict they are going to call it. And now they are showing us."

Email: smallwj@phillynews.com

Columns: ph.ly/Smallwood

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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