Sunday, 19 July 2015

Penalties drag CFL down

Three officials get together to discuss a penalty call.
    The CFL officials deserve a thumbs up.
    The men in the black and white striped shirts have been totally consistent calling the league’s new standard in flagging pass interference and illegal contact on a receiver penalties. Do to that consistency, everyone that watches the CFL has a pretty accurate painting of what the game looks with the strict enforcement of these fouls with four weeks of the season in the books.
    Now, everyone has to decide whether they like how the game looks now or not.
It seems routine now for both teams to record over 100 yards in penalties in each contest and for quarterbacks to complete 80 per cent of their passes.
    You also have to wonder if games now are weighted too much against the defence.
    A signature play to show how much the defence is hampered came from the B.C. Lions 27-24 victory over the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Friday at Mosaic Stadium. Near the end of the third quarter with the Lions on the Roughriders 29 holding a 20-11 lead, B.C. quarterback Travis Lulay threw a deep pass into the end zone to receiver Shawn Gore, who ran a wheel route on Riders defensive back Michael Carter. Carter was flagged for pass interference, which brought the ball to the Saskatchewan two.
    Saskatchewan head coach Corey Chamblin threw the challenge flag in hopes of reversing the penalty call. The call stood up after a review.
    Two plays later, the Lions opened the fourth quarter scoring a touchdown as Lulay connected with receiver A.C. Leonard to make the score 27-11. The Lions ultimately had strategic control of the game that stood up despite a late Roughriders rally.
    In dissecting the pass interference all that helped set up B.C.’s final major, it was clear that minor contact occurred between Gore and Carter halfway through the route. The two ended up hand fighting for a second before Lulay’s pass sailed way over the pair. Gore made a fruitless dive for the ball, but he had no chance of coming up with the pass.
    In Carter’s defence, you can argue there shouldn’t have been a penalty because both he and Gore participated in the hand fighting and the ball was not catchable.
    However, the officials have set the standard this season that any downfield contact on a receiver will be flagged, and the penalty call on Carter was consistent with what has already been called in the 2015 campaign. The referees and linesman grade out high for not swaying from that standard.
    The officials should continue to do what they are doing right through the end of the post-season. When the off-season rolls around, all those involved with league meetings have to decide if they want this standard of enforcement to be maintained. To make a change mid-season would be the biggest thing any league could do to damage its credibility.
An official stands beside Riders receiver Rob Bagg.
    Besides discussing the pass interference calls, the league has to examine how it is calling all infractions. At the start of the 2014 season, it was deemed the league need to call penalties more tightly. That resulted in numerous defensive battles, because the excessive penalty calls helped bring offences to a standstill.
    The highlight or lowlight of the season came in the 102nd Grey Cup in Vancouver on Nov. 30 between the Calgary Stampeders and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. With the Stampeders holding a 20-16 edge inside of the final minute of the fourth quarter, they had to punt the ball away to dangerous Tiger-Cats returner Brandon Banks. On an electrifying return, Banks ran the ball back 90 yards for the apparent winning score with 35 seconds to play.
    Hamilton linebacker Taylor Reed was flagged for an illegal block on Calgary linebacker Karl McCartney that erased the TD, and the Stamps held on for a 20-16 victory.
    Looking at the video, the call was close. There was an angle that made it look like the block was from the side and another angle where it looked like the block was a bit in the back area. The block also came in the fringe area, where it can be argued that McCartney might not have been able to make a tackle.
    If Bank’s major stood, the 102nd Grey Cup would be vaulted into classic status. In the end, it was still a good game, but it could have enjoyed a loftier position in CFL history.
    In order to get offences rolling, the league’s brain trust in the off-season decided to get tougher on the interpretation of defensive pass interference and illegal contact on a receiver. In another weird twist, offensive yardage is up all over the place, but the 38-34 style offensive shootout common in the late 1980s and early 1990s hasn’t returned.
    It is safe to say it was hoped the rule changes would greatly increase scoring, but it hasn’t. There has only been two games where both teams have score more than 30 points.
    During that last clash between the Riders and Lions, Saskatchewan was flagged 14 times for 159 yards, while B.C. had 11 infractions for 93 yards. Those types of penalty numbers have been the norm.
    When you viewed Saturday’s battle between the Stampeders and Winnipeg Blue Bombers in Calgary, it can be argued teams can adjust to how penalties are being called. The Stamps slipped past the Bombers 26-25 in an outstanding game. Calgary was flagged 12 times for 92 yards, while Winnipeg had nine infractions for 61 yards.
Officials sort out a play in a game featuring the Roughriders and Argonauts.
    The Stamps penalty yardage spiked a bit due to procedure calls, because they had to work in a number of backups to replace injured starters.
    With all that said, it would be great to see officials to have the ability to make a no call, if it is deserved. If a pass is not catchable and both the receiver and defensive back are hand fighting for example, don’t throw a flag.
    If the casual fan decides to stay away due to how the game looks, that will likely force the CFL’s brain trust to make more chances in the off-season, which hopefully means calling penalties the way they did in 2013.

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