Rich McKay, president and CEO of the Falcons, serves on the NFL’s competition committee which is, in part, responsible for rule changes and clarifications. In a regular feature as part of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s football coverage, McKay will break down a rule or issue facing the league each week.
This week: The rule change for too many men on the field.
Broncos coach John Fox ranted at officials about a lot of calls during his team’s game against the Falcons on Monday, but one penalty in particular seemed to set him off.
The Falcons broke the huddle in the second quarter and as quarterback Matt Ryan approached the line of scrimmage, the Broncos were penalized five yards for having too many men on the field. Fox, who lost a challenge to the call, wouldn’t address the officiating after the game, but it appeared he believed the Broncos should have had more time to get the extra man off the field.
That may have been a valid protest in seasons past, but not anymore.
“The official got it right,” McKay said. “He counted 12. Denver lined up ready to defend the play, and he threw the flag.”
During the offseason the NFL adopted the college rule for when the defense has too many men on the field. Instead of waiting until after the ball is snapped to throw a flag, it’s now a dead-ball foul on the defense if the offensive snap is “imminent”in the judgment of the official.
That leaves some interpretation for exactly when the snap is “imminent,” but McKay said the committee wanted to allow for late defensive substitutions.
There will be cases when the new rule is not advantageous for the offense. That was the case Monday for the Falcons, who weren’t concerned about the time on the clock at that point in the game and, McKay said, “would just as soon run the play.”
McKay said the committee weighed the advantage the offense might receive from running a free play against the defense potentially being able to work the clock under the old rule.
“Let’s say the offense has the ball at their own 40 and there is 20 seconds to go and the play took eight seconds,” he said. “The feeling was you are down to 12 seconds in the game and the defense got an advantage of having 12 men and the offense only got an advantage of five yards.”
McKay said a couple of unnamed coaches several years ago were known to deliberately send out up to 14 players in an effort to gain an advantage on the play and run down the clock. But McKay said the more recent example came during the last Super Bowl, when the Giants were penalized for 12 men on the field during New England’s final drive.
“That’s the example of how rules generally get changed: There’s a play, people notice the play, people see the potential for inequity and we end up changing it,” McKay said.