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Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Dirty Laundry: 'Cheating' the line

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert

I’ll admit it: I did a double-take this week while watching Green Bay’s 26-0 victory over Detroit. Twice in the first half, once in the first quarter and once in the second, Packers left tackle Chad Clifton was penalized for not being on the line of scrimmage at the snap.

Sometimes you see a tackle penalized for illegal formation when it’s not his fault. Most often, that happens when a wide receiver mistakenly gets set behind the line and leaves the tackle as an ineligible “receiver.” But in both cases Sunday, Clifton got caught using the veteran strategy of purposely lining up behind the line to give himself more space -- and time to react -- to the oncoming pass-rusher.

NFL rules require the offense to have seven players on the line of scrimmage; in effect, that counts all five linemen because their jersey numbers make them ineligible to line up anywhere else without first declaring themselves. I suspect Clifton isn’t the only veteran tackle who uses this technique; when you watch the replays, his position was more pronounced by the fact that tight end Donald Lee was next to him and noticeably closer to the line.

The penalties were technically correct, but you rarely see them called. For it to happen twice in the first 20 minutes of the game suggests the Lions might have brought it to the attention of referee Jerome Boger. (Each head coach meets with the referee before the game.)

More than anything, I think this is a commentary on Clifton’s confidence as a pass protector Sunday. No NFL left tackle should feel compelled to cheat the line of scrimmage against Lions defensive end Copeland Bryan, a waiver-wire pickup who has two sacks in his NFL career.

Now, on to our updated Challenge Tracker:

NFC North Challenge Tracker
Team Coach Challenge Overturned Success rate
Chicago Lovie Smith 4 1 25.0
Detroit Jim Schwartz 2 0 --
Green Bay Mike McCarthy 3 1 33.3
Minnesota Brad Childress 3 1 33.3
Source: NFL