Watch for flying flags in the NFL this season

Posted: September 05, 2014

THE NFL PRESEASON was a yellow mess. Flags, flags everywhere as the league decided that it was time to crack down on the all of the mean and awful things that linebackers and defensive backs were doing to the league's receivers.

Never mind that they did this following a season in which the league set all sorts of new scoring records.

In the first 3 weeks of the preseason, the zebras threw 902 flags in 49 games. That's 18.5 penalties a game, or 5.1 a game more than they called in the 2013 regular-season.

There weren't nearly as many penalties called in the final week of the preseason (14.8 per game). But I'm guessing that was either because Roger Goodell took pity on the suckers who had to pay full price to watch third- and fourth-stringers play and told the zebras to keep the flags in their pockets. Or most of the officials need Tommy John surgery.

Which brings us to Week 1 and whether the zebras are going to continue to call contact tight beyond the 5-yard limit, or whether they're going to back off and let the players play.

NFL officiating czar Dean Blandino insists his crews won't be backing off. He said the rules are the rules and it's up to the players to adjust.

Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin thinks the officials are going to be a little more lenient with downfield contact now that the games count.

"I don't think they're going to call it as tight as they did in the preseason," he said. "I just don't think you can do that. It stops the flow of the game."

In their four preseason games, the Eagles were penalized 14 times for illegal contact (8) and defensive holding (6). In 16 regular-season games last year, they were flagged a total of six times for those two infractions.

Cornerback Cary Williams wasn't penalized at all in the preseason for holding or illegal contact. The Eagles' other starting corner, Bradley Fletcher, picked up two illegal-contact penalties.

"I'm just gonna play the game I been playing," Williams said. "I'm gonna keep doing what I been doing. The refs are gonna be out there. They're part of the game. But I can't allow them to get into my head or allow those calls to dictate what I'm going to do.

"If I have to take it back a little bit, I'll take it back. But I'm going to be as aggressive as possible. I'm going to push the threshold."

Defensive coordinator Bill Davis said his linebackers and DBs have made "steady progress" as far as adjusting to the rules crackdown.

"The New England game was way too many flags, but we steadily got better as it went on, and we're harping on it like everybody."

Davis said the players have adjusted, but said the officials also have gotten better at recognizing what really is an infraction and what's not.

He said it will be important for Williams and the rest of the DBs to talk to the officials early in the game and find out what they're going to allow as far as contact.

"You always say, look, let's find out what they are allowing and not allowing and let's adjust our game to that guy and what he's interpreting, and continue to talk with the man," Davis said.

"I mean, he's a human being like anybody else. [You ask him] 'Did you see that?' And sometimes there's great interaction and you really can get away with exactly what he'll let you, and take it to the very limit, and that's what you try to do."

Penalty Yards Per Game

2013 Regular Season. . . 13.4

2014 Preseason Week 1. . . 17.7

2014 Preseason Week 2. . . 20.6

2014 Preseason Week 3. . . 17.3

2014 Preseason Week 4. . . 14.8

QB-friendly offense

As you may have heard about a thousand times, Nick Foles threw just two interceptions last season in 317 attempts.

In Chip Kelly's final season as the head coach of the Oregon Ducks, his quarterback, Marcus Mariota, had just six interceptions in 336 attempts. His quarterback the year before that, Darron Thomas, had only seven picks in 339 attempts.

Since 2003, when he was the offensive coordinator at the University of New Hampshire, Kelly's quarterbacks have done a magnificent job of throwing touchdown passes and not throwing interceptions. His starters during that period have averaged an interception every 52.4 attempts and a touchdown pass every 13.1.

"I've just been really fortunate in that the guys I've had an opportunity to coach really understood what we were trying to get accomplished, and they understood the value of throwing the ball away rather than trying to force it in there, and just really understanding and managing the game," Kelly said yesterday.

"I've been fortunate to have some really, really smart guys playing the quarterback position. A lot about being a good quarterback is being a great decision-maker, first and foremost. And I've just been fortunate to be around a bunch of guys that are really good decision-makers."

Good decision-making obviously is a big part of it. But so is Kelly's offense, which is very quarterback-friendly. As an NFL scout pointed out yesterday in his position-by-position breakdown of the Eagles in the Daily News, a passer doesn't have to make quite as many tough throws in Kelly's offense as some others.

"The way Chip spaces his receivers out, you can put a lot of air on balls," the scout said. "You can float it. You can throw it into an open space."

Foles had the second best interception percentage in the league last year. Yes, there was somebody better. Josh McCown, then with the Bears and now with the Bucs, had just one interception in 224 attempts.

"Chip's not going to play a quarterback who throws a bunch of interceptions," Foles said. "It just goes back to the fact that he likes guys who make [smart] decisions and run the offense.

"The key is understanding the offense and understanding why Chip is calling a play. When he calls a play, we know what he's looking for. We know how to read it. We prepared in practice a certain way.

"I think the big thing is the preparation. What our coaches bring to the table when we prepare for games. It gives you a real good look of, when you get on the field, you've seen it in practice, you've seen it on film, and you know what to do."

Quite often, the defense doesn't.

Jaguars coach Gus Bradley admitted the other day that it's extremely difficult for a defensive coach to get his arms around what Kelly is going to do in a game. He's about as predictable as the weather.

"What makes it difficult is you see how they attack a certain defense, and you might have a pretty good feel for how they attack one team," Bradley said. "And then another team runs a similar defense maybe 2 weeks later and you see different plays.

"They have their core plays, but a different way of attacking it. So it's really hard to get a bead in on them and what they're doing and how they're trying to attack a three-deep team vs. a two-deep team."

Year Team QB Attempts Touchdowns Interceptions

2013 Eagles Nick Foles 317 27 2

2012 Oregon Marcus Mariota 336 32 6

2011 Oregon Darron Thomas 339 33 7

2010 Oregon Darron Thomas 361 30 9

2009 Oregon Jeremiah Masoli 305 15 6

2008 Oregon Jeremiah Masoli 239 13 5

2007 Oregon Dennis Dixon 254 20 4

2006 UNH Ricky Santos 432 29 7

2005 UNH Ricky Santos 429 39 9

2004 UNH Ricky Santos 425 31 10

2003 UNH Mike Granieri 387 22 8

2002 UNH Mike Granieri 297 12 11

2001 UNH Ryan Day 379 16 14

2000 UNH Ryan Day 346 19 14

1999 UNH Ryan Day 364 18 13

This and that

-- Ever since Chip Kelly made a joke about LeSean McCoy's practice habits a few weeks ago, there has been some speculation that the relationship between the Eagles head coach and his star running back might not be the warmest and fuzziest. But McCoy made it clear this week that he and Kelly are good. Very good, in fact. Asked if ever wonders what it would've been like if Kelly had decided to stay at Oregon and Gus Bradley had been hired as the team's coach 21 months ago, McCoy said: "I've built such a good relationship with Chip. I don't know how it would be [with someone else]. When we lost Andy [Reid], I was so angry because I had built that relationship with him. But then Chip came and he kind of picked up where Andy left off. He's been great. In terms of emotion, I like the way he coaches. I like his energy. I like the way he pushes me. I can't imagine what it would be like with another coach. Because playing for coach Kelly, I love it. I really do."

-- So I'm watching "Hard Knocks" with my wife the other night, and every wife or girlfriend of an Atlanta Falcons player seemed to be either a blonde ex-cheerleader who spends 20 hours a day taking Pilates or Zumba classes or a Real Housewife or a former Miss America contestant, and my wife asked me if any NFL players actually had wives with real jobs that don't require yoga pants or really tight dresses. Which is when I told her about Rosalynn Smith, the wife of Eagles wide receiver Brad Smith. Rosalynn has a PhD in biological engineering from the University of Missouri. She was a scientific adviser in intellectual property law and a volunteer research scientist in the neonatal intensive care unit of a hospital in Morristown, N.J., when Brad played for the Jets. She also is a published author. It's safe to say she never will be appearing on "Kendra On Top."

-- According to the NFL Health and Safety Report, which was obtained by the Associated Press this week, concussions were down 13 percent last season from the previous year. In the league's information guide for the 2014 season, it said there were 185 concussions in 50,000 plays last season. If you're counting, that's a concussion every 270 plays. 

-- By the time you read this, the Raiders already will have checked into their hotel in North Jersey. They left yesterday for Sunday's game against the Jets at MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands. Call it the Anti-Chip method of beating jet lag. The Raiders haven't won a game in the Eastern time zone since '09, so they thought they'd try leaving really, really early and see if that helps change their luck. If this doesn't work, they might want to consider moving the team to Wilkes- Barre.

-- Las Vegas oddsmaker Bovada has the Eagles' odds to win the NFC at 11/1. That ties them with the Bears for only the fifth best odds in the conference, behind Seattle (6/1), San Francisco and Green Bay (8/1) and New Orleans (9/1).

On Twitter: @Pdomo

More from Domo:

Two-minute drill

Week 1 NFL rankings

Eagles-Jaguars scouting report

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