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Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Dirty Laundry: More 'roughing' the passer

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert

I’m starting to get regular requests from readers for Dirty Laundry. That’s a good thing, and I’ll do my best to expand this post as best I can. Please understand, however, that I probably won’t be able to get to every questionable/interesting call.

We’ll take a look at two calls this week, one of which is unfortunate while the other is a bit perplexing.

On the former: Some Detroit fans were upset with referee Ron Winter’s decision to penalize linebacker Julian Peterson for roughing the passer on a third down incompletion during the first quarter of last Sunday’s 17-10 loss to St. Louis.

As you might recall, the Rams were facing 3rd-and-9 at the Lions’ 27-yard line with 5:22 remaining in the first quarter. Peterson lined up as the Lions’ right defensive end and beat Rams left tackle Alex Barron around the corner. Just as quarterback Marc Bulger released the ball, Peterson reached out and hit Bugler on the top of the helmet with his right hand.

The hit wasn’t violent, but it was hard enough that Bulger’s head moved slightly. His pass fell incomplete, which would have forced placekicker Josh Brown to attempt a 46-yard field goal. But Winter immediately whistled Peterson for roughing the passer, giving the Rams a first down. Ultimately, Brown converted an easier 41-yard field goal.

Unfortunately, Peterson was just out of luck on this call. The NFL rule book warns that “referees will be particularly alert to fouls in which defenders impermissibly … use hands, arms, or other parts of the body to hit the passer in the head, neck or face.”

Peterson intended no malice but, as we discussed last month when the Lions fell victim to another weak roughing penalty, the NFL long ago decided to protect quarterbacks at all costs. Even Lions coach Jim Schwartz couldn’t argue.

“He hit him in the head,” Schwartz said. “It was a glancing blow but the rule book states you can’t hit the quarterback in the head. … That’s the definition of the rule. It’s hard on defensive players. If you go low on the quarterback you’re going to get a penalty. We had one of those a couple of weeks ago. If you go high and you hit him in the head you get a penalty. If you try to hit him in the belly and he ducks his head and you hit him in the head, it’s a penalty. It’s difficult for those guys. They just have to go play and they need to let the officials officiate. We just need to play. You hit the quarterback in the head, it’s going to be a penalty. They’re going to throw it.”

On the latter call: I received a question during Tuesday’s SportsNation chat about Minnesota’s botched snap in the first quarter of last Sunday’s game at Lambeau Field. (I didn’t address it because I wasn’t sure of the answer.) Specifically, the issue was whether Vikings quarterback Brett Favre should have been called for illegal motion because he was walking toward the line of scrimmage when center John Sullivan snapped the ball.

The NFL rulebook is pretty explicit on this issue. It reads, in part: “No player is ever permitted to be moving obliquely or directly forward toward his opponent’s goal line at the snap.”

There are no exceptions, from what I can gather. Technically, then, Tony Corrente’s crew should have called Favre for illegal motion.

We should make clear that this is nearly a moot point. Had illegal motion been called, the Packers would have declined because they recovered the ball at the Vikings’ 21-yard line. Had the Vikings recovered, the lost yardage probably would have been more than the 5 yards docked for illegal motion anyway.

Finally, here is our updated Challenge Tracker:
NFC North Challenge Tracker
Team Coach Challenge Overturned Success rate
Chicago Lovie Smith 7 2 28.6
Detroit Jim Schwartz 2 0 0.0
Green Bay Mike McCarthy 4 1 25.0
Minnesota Brad Childress 5 2 40.0
Source: NFL