Pass-defense rules go too far, Chiefs say
Team suggests changes to NFL that it thinks would level playing field
By ADAM TEICHER
The Kansas City Star
The NFL got what it wanted last year when it emphasized the enforcement of rules regarding downfield contact in the passing game.
Offenses became hot again. Scoring was up. Yards were accumulated. Many people were smiling.
“The points of emphasis, in our opinion, worked well,” said Atlanta general manager Rich McKay, the co-chairman of the NFL's competition committee.
Not everyone agreed with McKay, and Chiefs president/general manager Carl Peterson was one. Peterson saw defenders being rendered at times helpless by the rules enforcement.
When defenses weren't being penalized for illegal contact beyond the 5-yard limit — those penalties were up almost 250 percent from 2003 — they permitted receivers wide berths to avoid the seemingly inevitable yellow flag from the officials.
So Peterson and the Chiefs are sponsoring a pair of proposals at this week's NFL meetings in Hawaii that would modify the passing rules and, they say, help put defenses back on equal footing.
One would keep illegal defensive contact as a 5-yard penalty but not an automatic first down, as it currently is. Another would institute the college rule for pass interference and make it a 15-yard penalty unless it's deemed flagrant. It would then be a spot foul.
Defensive pass interference penalties would also be spot fouls if they were committed within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage.
“The emphasis was for a good reason,” Peterson said. “But the pendulum sometimes swings too far. We've got to bring it back and get it somewhere in the middle.”
Peterson's proposals have the support of Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil.
“You've got to give the defense some advantage or some opportunity to play,” Vermeil said. “We're paying those guys a lot of money.”
They might not get their way. The proposal to modify the pass-interference penalty has been put forth in previous years and failed.
The opinion of McKay's committee carries plenty of sway in the voting. He wouldn't reveal its recommendation on Peterson's proposal but said the committee doesn't believe the passing rules are weighted too heavily in favor of the offense.
“We don't feel (that), but we do hope that the conduct, meaning the actual illegal contact, we clearly want to see that come down,” McKay said. “The feeling was, when you watch the tape as the year went on, people got more comfortable as to how it was going to be called that they adjusted their play. Our hope is that this year that adjustment continues when we re-emphasize it and show it on tape to all the players and all the coaches.
“I thought the coaches did an outstanding job of understanding, as the year went on, what the foul was. I just hope now that we're, again, able to modify the conduct so the number of fouls comes down. That's a lot of fouls. We'd like that number to come down. Our hope is it comes down based on conduct, not based on us officiating it differently this year.”
In Peterson's view, the awarding of a first down on a pass interference penalty well short of the necessary yardage is too harsh.
But opponents fear that changing the rule would be an invitation to defenses to play overly aggressive in long-yardage situations. The cost would only be 5 yards and not a fresh set of downs, too.
For the Chiefs, with the league's worst passing defense last year, to sponsor such proposals looks self-serving: If the players can't do the job, let the rules do it for them.
But there's also a flip side.
“We're possibly shooting ourselves in the foot, too,” Peterson said. “We're a passing team.”
To reach Adam Teicher, Chiefs reporter