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Friday, October 23, 2015

Further Review: The Holding Penalty on Smith

A defensive player may use his hands, arms, or body to push, pull, or ward off offensive players:
  1. when he is defending himself against an obstructing opponent while attempting to reach the runner
  2. when an opponent is obviously attempting to block him
  3. in a personal attempt to reach a loose ball that has touched the ground during a backward pass, fumble, or kick
  4. during a forward pass that has crossed the neutral zone and has been touched by any player.
Exception 1: An eligible receiver is considered to be an obstructing opponent only to a point five yards beyond the line of scrimmage unless the player who receives the snap demonstrates no further intention to pass the ball (including handing off the ball, pitching the ball, or moving out of the pocket). See 8-4-2–3 for rules applicable to Illegal Contact with an eligible receiver.
--from the 2015 NFL Rule Book, emphasis mine.
I react.
I physically react every time I see the play.  With a twitch of the arm, an air punch, an attitudinal jerk.
The reason is, the holding called from 25 yards away by a sight-line-obstructed ref is nowhere near the spirit of the rule at best, a blatant misfire at worst.  This call gave the 49ers a first down and took all of our remaining timeouts (this includes the 2 minute warning), leaving only one minute plus to try and navigate the field.  Why make a marginal call like that at a time like that?
Was it really holding?  Was it blatant and inexcusable?  Was it merely a breaking of the rule, worthy of a flag? Or was it none of the above?  Let's take a closer look.

Ravens CB Jimmy Smith had been shadowing the 49ers WR Quinton Patton for a couple of plays, and he lined up tight over him in the slot.  On the snap, Smith gave one of his patented, jarring jams and Patton buckled.  Patton also turned his inside shoulder towards the QB, away from the jam, which slid Smith's hands on his front and back.  At this point, the Back Judge, who was 25 yards back, threw a flag for what he interpreted as defensive holding.  I'd like to point out how quickly he threw the flag, and ask how clear his vision was: (click to enlarge)

 This first shot is fast forwarded to the ref' first view of contact.  Patton is already turned inside towards the QB.  But the more curious and important matter is that SS Will Hill is directly in front of the ref, clearly 25+ yards down the field.  As we'll see later, Jimmy Smith was disengaging at this point-- pre-flag.

 The ref begins to reach for his flag in this shot.  SF QB Colin Kaepernick is rolling away, arguably outside of the tackle box, not at all seeking Patton.  Smith continues to disengage.

 When his arm is cocked back to throw the flag, Smith is fully disengaged and only has an arm extended, still perfectly legal.  The ref might claim that his call was based on the seconds before his flag toss.  At least, at this point, Will Hill is out of his line of vision, but Kaepernick is clearly outside of the original tackle box at this point.

Now, let's look at the interaction.  CBS did a good job of replaying this instance, but the best view seemed to be from the original play:

I know it's choppy and it will take your eyes some getting used to, my apologies for that.  When you can, look closely at the original jam.  Patton was clearly running a box-out type of move, and rendered Smith's jam unnecessary.  He also did a swim move type turn, completely, which suggests he was not being held.  The blue line is the line of scrimmage, so this is clearly within the bounds of a chuck (5 yards).  Notice towards the end how Jimmy's right elbow is pulled back so as to avoid hooking the receiver.  Jimmy is a smart player, he was intentionally trying not to get the hold called on him, nor applied by him.  To no avail.

This is a judgment call, so very hard to argue from a team standpoint.  I think that the back judge should have reserved calling this marginal judgment penalty that was at such a crucial time in the game.  

Further Review: ERRONEOUS CALL.