Heading Into This Playoff Weekend the NFL Officiating Looks Into Cheating Kickers

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With some of the recent complaints seen in recent weeks, the NFL might be better served focusing on other issues.

This Saturday and Sunday could be about the most exciting weekend in the NFL season, with four playoff games that see strong matchups with highly significant ramifications. Will the surprising Jaguars have a chance? Are the Giants a legitimate threat to the Eagles with a damaged Jalen Hurts? And many will be glued to see who among the evenly-matched Bills and Bengals can manage to advance.

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Meanwhile, as many fans will be looking up at the scoreboards, the referees, we have learned, will be looking down. The NFL officiating department, spurred on by league officials, has announced that they will be paying close attention to what is taking place during field goal attempts and extra points. Apparently, it has come to light that a barely recognized rule has been possibly violated in recent weeks regarding the placeholders of these kicks.

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Throughout this season, there have been a number of instances that have had fans yelling at their televisions regarding the refs. Mostly this is in reference to two calls – or non-calls, as it were: pass interference violations and roughing the passer penalties. In the first case, many times, the DBs are mugging receivers without a call, and in the latter. incidental and/or light contact with the quarterbacks has brought out the laundry.

Despite these serious infractions, the refs will instead be focusing on the grass. It seems that in recent weeks, more attention is being paid to what is taking place in the course of making a kick attempt.

The league has asked officials to start watching holders more closely to make sure they’re not using any illegal foreign objects, No article of any type may be placed on the field, or used in any manner, to assist a player in the execution of a field goal and/or [extra point] attempt.

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What they are discussing is a fairly common practice, to this point at least, of the placeholder using a tiny object to mark the exact spot to center the ball after receiving the snap. As many people might be unaware of this practice, what is interesting is that this rule even covers what would not be considered a “foreign object.” Using a portion of the turf is apparently also considered a rule violation.

Cowboys holder Bryan Anger usually grabs a blade of grass and puts it down in front of him so he knows exactly where to put the football down when he’s holding, but even that’s illegal and the officiating crew let him know during Dallas’ win on Monday. 

What seems to have set off this new level of interest is something spotted in a recent Philadelphia-New York Giants game, involving kicker Jake Elliot. The Eagles kicker was facing accusations of possible cheating when that his replacement holder, Britain Covey, was spotted picking up a small white object off the turf following an Elliot kick. The site Football Zebras has a video clip of the potential infraction leading to this renewed interest in the rule.

 

We can make out the white spot ahead of the kick and clearly Covey is seen nabbing the object immediately after the follow-through. What is less clear is how much of a rule violation this had been. Elliot stated that he had spoken with officials on this matter and explained they were not violating a rule.

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“When we talked to them, we explained what we’re doing, and they saw what we were doing,” Elliott said. “Probably 30 teams do it around the league. It’s just a point of emphasis, and someone makes it bigger than it is. Everything we’ve done has been completely legal.”

This would seem to indicate that the league either had been aware or overlooked the matter, but once there was more public awareness, the officials decided this now needs to be enforced. 

So be calm, sports fans – the refs will be policing the use of blades of grass today and tomorrow for these deeply serious post-season games. As far as big play interference disruptions or benign tackles becoming drive-sustaining major infractions, we are still at the mercy of the interpretational nature of things.

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