EARTH CITY, Mo. -- During training camp each year, the NFL sends an officiating crew to each team's location to work with that team for a few days, pointing out rules of emphasis and running a sort of refresher course on new rule changes.
Along with it, the officials provide a description to the local media. This year, one of the topics of conversation was a cracking down on blind side blocks. The emphasis was to help protect players who might not see a bone-rattling block coming.
In the Rams' loss to Dallas on Sunday, the Rams were flagged twice for blind side blocks on special teams, including one by safety T.J. McDonald that appeared to be clean but was ultimately declined by the Cowboys anyway.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher reviewed the calls Sunday night and Monday morning and said he understood the calls even if he didn't agree that they were penalties in the true sense of the word.
“We had -- there were two blind side blocks called on both punt returns and I would support the call," Fisher said. "I don’t think they’re fouls, but I would support the call because the officials have been encouraged to officiate on the side of player safety. And so, I could see why that was called, but in my opinion, it was a clean block. It was a big hit and we’re fortunate that the Dallas defender got up because it was quite a lick, but I think the expectation once anyone sees that is that it’s a peel back block.”
McDonald did not use his head or go helmet to helmet with the block and appeared to have ideal form by using his shoulder to go through the chest of Cowboys defender Kyle Wilber.
According to the letter of the law, there didn't appear to be anything egregious about the block or even anything particularly illegal. But the league has made it a point to try to crack down on defending what it claims to be defenseless players. In this case, Wilber never saw the hit coming so it didn't really matter if McDonald didn't commit an obvious infraction.
“The officiating department has been encouraged to officiate on the side of player safety," Fisher said. "So, if there is any question whatsoever whether the block is potentially too high -- it’s a very quick moment, then they’re going to throw the flags. It’s easy to slow things down frame by frame by frame on video replay and say, ‘Yes, it’s a foul,’ or ‘No, it’s a foul.’ It’s very hard to do in real time.”
What Fisher said is true and, as a member of the league's competition committee, his view is going to be a bit more measured. My question would be what, exactly, McDonald could do different in that situation? High speed collisions are part of the game and it's not realistic to ask him to just slow up and potentially let Wilber make the tackle.
To me, the league continues to struggle with drawing a line between protecting players and asking them to stop playing at full speed.
Daily roundup of yesterday's stories here at ESPN.com. ... We started with the weekly roundup of the rookie class and its playing time and production. ... Followed that with this week's Upon Further Review, looking back at four issues from Sunday's game against Dallas. ... From there, we looked at the positive and negative side of having a short week coming off a terrible performance. ... Finally, we offered an injury report including news on running back Daryl Richardson and end William Hayes.
As with any time a team is on the wrong end of a loss like the Rams were on Sunday, the fallout leads to a lot of harsh (and in this case deserved) criticism. Here's the breakdown of that, mostly from the folks at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Columnist Bryan Burwell places blame everywhere in this video piece.
With the written word, columnist Bernie Miklasz does the same.
Beat writer Jim Thomas draws comparisons to some of the worst days the Rams had under former coaches Steve Spagnuolo and Scott Linehan.
Thomas also addresses the continued problems the Rams are having with special teams penalties.