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Zulgad: When is a sack not a sack? Answer won’t thrill most

By Judd Zulgad

There were a mind-numbing 20 penalties called in Jacksonville’s victory over the Vikings on Saturday afternoon at U.S. Bank Stadium but only one stood out.

It was this fourth-quarter roughing the passer call on Vikings linebacker Antwione Williams.

15-yard penalty for playing football.

— Field Yates (@FieldYates) August 18, 2018

The call by referee Shawn Hochuli’s crew falls under the NFL’s decision to penalize defenders 15 yards if it is ruled they drove a quarterback into the ground unnecessarily. This comes, of course, after Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr broke Aaron Rodgers’ right collarbone last season by completing a tackle on the Packers quarterback in Week 6.

I’ve watched Williams’ sack of Jaguars quarterback Cody Kessler several times and have a problem finding how a play that should have made it second-and-17 from the Jaguars 42-yard line, ended up as a first-and-10 for Jacksonville from the Vikings’ 36-yard line.

One would have thought Mike Zimmer would agree — he certainly seemed upset after the flag was thrown — but the Vikings coach clearly did not want to have to write a check to the NFL. “After I calmed down a little bit I looked at (the replay) and he was … his head was to the side and he was going to the side and if he would have just rolled, but he kind of pumped him into the turf,” Zimmer said. “I actually think that was a good call.”

Zimmer said this with a straight face but there is no way he could have actually believed this or that he would have been this calm if the same penalty was assessed in a regular-season game.

“At the end of the day, this whole roll (on the quarterback) is sketchy at best,” said Vikings defensive end Brian Robison, who is in his 12th NFL season. “I don’t think we know exactly what is supposed to happen. I mean, we’ve seen the tape and some of the plays look totally legal to me and they are saying they are fouls. I think we are all confused about it. I think if you ask the referees they might be confused which ones they are supposed to look for to throw (the flag).”

Robison is right.

As much as I’d like to find fault with Hochuli — he’s the son of the recently retired Ed Hochuli and clearly loves having an open mike as much as his old man — the issue here is that referees have spent the preseason trying to make it clear they have been instructed to call penalties for two things that require snap judgments and can’t be looked at on replay.

One is the attempt to punish defenders for driving quarterbacks into the ground, or landing on them with too much of their weight, the other is the crackdown on players who lead with their helmets. That might not only result in a penalty but also an ejection. Former Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, now head coach of the New York Giants, wasn’t happy to see linebacker Mark Herzlich get called for unsportsmanlike conduct on Friday against Detroit for leading with his head on this block.

Mark Herzlich just got called for “leaning with his head” on this block with Theo Riddick. #embarrassing #NFL #Giants #Lions

— Scott Burke (@Scot557) August 18, 2018

Shurmur, like his former boss, did not want to get fined so he stayed away from criticizing a call that took away a Giants sack. But he made it clear he wasn’t happy.

“I have a very strong opinion of that play,” he told reporters. “We’re going to send that play in to get evaluated and we’ll see what they say, and what they do tell me, I won’t tell you. Here’s the thing — we want to teach a physical, safe game, played by the rules, and things happen fast in games, and we all certainly see things differently in real speed, so sometimes it gets left to interpretation when you replay it in HD very slowly, so we’ll just see. Part of the preseason is everyone getting used to the new rule. Not only how to play the game, but how to officiate it; and I’m hopeful I’m going to get an answer on that play.”

The reality is if the preseason is any indication of what we are going to see when the regular-season opens, we are going to have games that go on forever and we are going to see coaches and players probably getting more unsportsmanlike conduct penalties because they will be melting down.

Robison said there’s another issue when it comes to how aggressive a player can be. “If it leads to less aggressive play now you start looking at the fact of now we got guys slowing up on a play and might get hurt,” Robison said. “To me if you slow up on a play it will weaken the strength of our game. I understand what the NFL is trying to do, they are trying to cut down on a lot of the head injuries and stuff like that. It’s just confusing to be honest with you.”

The hope has to be that the NFL has told its referees to go over the top in the exhibition season but then will pull back on the flags once the season opens. That is something that former NFL offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz, who spent 2012 with the Vikings, pointed out.

Can we wait to overreact till the regular season? The refs overcall all new rules in the preseason.

— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) August 18, 2018

Hopefully, Schwartz is right. If he’s not, the pace of play problem in baseball will look like nothing compared to what the NFL will be dealing with in 2018.

The post Zulgad: When is a sack not a sack? Answer won’t thrill most appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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