NFL Officiating: League Must Revamp Rules Following Texans-Colts Game

Mike Foster@michaelsfosterCorrespondent IDecember 23, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 22:  of the Houston Texans during the NFL against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 22, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Last night, during the match up between the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts, onlookers saw two of the most disturbingly unfair penalties in recent memory.

Both flags were 15-yard penalties directed at Texans' defensive end JJ Watt, who drew the calls with hits on Colts quarterback Dan Orlovsky

You can see the first play that drew a flag here.

From the raw video, it seems like as clean as a hit can get.  Yet, the referee threw the flag almost immediately because of subtle helmet-to-helmet contact.

According to NFL rules, helmet-to-helmet contact warrants a 15-yard personal foul penalty.

This is an acceptable rule.  In fact, most pundits, fans and players can wholeheartedly agree that the rule is necessary and beneficial to player safety.

But, the concept of protecting defenseless players—especially quarterbacks—has gone way too far.

Referees should be able to understand the difference and make a distinction between deliberately vicious helmet-to-helmet contact and accidental contact.

Football is a tough, physical sport.  We can't expect this type of incidental contact to go away if referees take 15 yards away from teams every time it happens. 

That's a major flaw in the application of officiating.

This type of incidental contact cannot be prevented.  At the speed the game is played, along with the randomized motions of players, how in the world can we expect athletes to stop themselves and alter their play based on these rules?

It's impossible.

If Orlovsky doesn't lower his head on that play, Watts' helmet goes into his chest. 

Watt was not at fault.  The play, viewed at regular speed, looked incredibly clean. 

And the second play that the referees took away from Watt was even more disturbing. 

With the game on the line, and under one minute to go, Watt was able to peel around blockers and nearly sack Orlovsky from behind.

But because of a push from the offensive tackle, Watt ended up falling, ever so slightly, into the back of Orlovsky's ankles. 

Orlovsky fell over on the play, and another 15-yard hankie was issued to Watt.  At a pivotal point in the game, no less.

I've never felt worse for a player in my life as a football fan.  Watt played clean, with a ton of heart, and was robbed of his successes.

What's even more disturbing is the lack of attention these types of plays receive from sports media.  I figured this issue would have been a major story in any sports section of any publication.

JJ Watt was seemingly penalized for his best output of the evening.
JJ Watt was seemingly penalized for his best output of the evening.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

However, I've been hard-pressed to find anything in mainstream media that finds last night's officiating mishap problematic.

Not only is the media afraid of calling out poor officiating, but the NFL and teams are strictly prohibited from doing so.

When are officials going to be allowed to receive earned criticism at the same level that players and coaches receive? 

Officials are untouchable.

Sure, tons of times they do a great job, but last night was a blatant failure on the part of the zebra crew.

My brother brought up a good point about helmet-to-helmet contact, as well.  A lot of players in the NFL aren't wearing the latest concussion-preventing helmet designs. 

Despite being available, Riddell's Revolution Speed and Revolution Speed 360 helmets are only worn by so many players, and other helmet models like Xenith and Rawlings are seldom seen.

These are helmets that are specifically designed with concussion reduction in mind.

The first step the NFL needs to be making, in terms of head safety, is putting every player in the safest equipment possible.

Instead of even considering this issue, the NFL is instead creating bogus and strict officiating rules that compromise the nature of the game and the motivation for players to play at full speed.

Fifteen yards is a lot of real estate to be taken away from a team because a guy's facemask accidentally touched another guy's facemask.

It's absurd.

NFL rules, especially 15-yard penalties, should exist to prevent blatantly unsportsmanlike, or illegal plays.  If a player leads with his helmet and lunges, that's one thing. 

If a cornerback pulls down a receiver when the ball is in the air, then a flag is more than necessary.

But I'm sick and tired of seeing subtle, innocent, ticky-tack incidents costing teams and jeopardizing the results of games. 


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