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Senior NFL Columnist

Monday Musings: Examining why the NFL is going overboard with penalties

There's been way too much of this type of huddling this preseason.
There's been way too much of this type of huddling this preseason. (Getty Images)

It's Flagapalooza in the NFL these days.

It's the talk of the preseason, with fans outraged and the pace of play slowing to the point where it has been almost unwatchable at times.

It has to change.

It will change.

In the first week of the preseason, there were 27 illegal-contact penalties called. That's way too many. The final tally isn't in for the second week, but it didn't slow. There were 31 penalties called in the Saints-Titans game alone.

It's an irritant for sure, and I imagine it will lessen in the regular season, but for now the players and coaches I've talked with the past couple of weeks have the same attitude about it that Chip Kelly had after his team's preseason game with New England Friday night.

They aren't really fazed by it, and they all have to learn to deal with it if that's the way it's going to be called.

"Those are the rules, and we've got to play by them," Kelly said after his team's preseason game with the Patriots. "And whoever ends up being the most disciplined team in this league is going to win, but the rule is not going to change. And that's what I told those guys in the locker room. I think we had 10, and they had 11, and it seems like it's like that overall, but I don't think tomorrow or Sunday, Roger [Goodell] is going to say, 'Hey we're going to change it.' We've got to learn to not get our hands in people's faces, and we've got to understand that after five yards it's illegal contact. And if you can't play within the rules, you can't play in this league."

It will be interesting to see how teams adjust -- both the offense and the defense.

"They said they were going to be just as strict on receivers doing little things, like chicken wings, to get separation at the top of the route, so I think it will go both ways," Jackson said. "There are big-name guys out there, Darrelle Revis and Richard Sherman, guys like that. Their reputations will let them get away with it a little more. But whatever it is, we have to deal with it."

Defensive coordinators are using different approaches to try to get their secondary players to keep from using their hands after 5 yards, which is the legal contact area.

Some teams have used boxing gloves to help change the way their players play. Bringing in officials and letting them call it close during practices has also helped.

"You just have to understand they're going to call it closer after five yards," Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. "We're a big press-man team, so I tell our guys they have to be good with (their) hands and feet early. When the officials worked with us, they said we did a pretty good job. We'll see. You just have to be more disciplined."

There are some who think the league's emphasis on illegal contact in the secondary is a result of Seattle beating up on Denver in the Super Bowl last February. Defensive coordinators see it a different way.

"They want a lot of points scored," Guenther said. "What will they do next? We're still going to try and make offenses miserable. But you can see what they're doing."

I contacted several front-office types, not coaches, to see what they thought about the glut of flags being thrown the first two weeks.

"It won't last," one GM said. "The games are too long and (Roger) Goodell hates that."

Said another GM when I asked if it was out of control: "What do you think? You don't need me to tell you."

What I think is that it is way overboard. But I also think it will be cut down once the regular season starts. It has to be. The flow of the game right now is horrible.

More Musings

Sam Baker reportedly tore his patella tendon on Saturday night and could miss the season.
Sam Baker's departure is a cause for concern in Atlanta. (USATSI)

The loss of left tackle Sam Baker might not seem like a big hit for the Atlanta Falcons to some who don't think he's all that good, but it is that. When healthy, Baker has been a solid left tackle. The problem is he can't stay healthy. Baker suffered a torn patella tendon in his right knee in Saturday's preseason loss to the Houston Texans after tearing the same tendon in his left knee last season. He is gone for the season. The Falcons will likely move first-round pick Jake Matthews from the right side to the left side with either Lamar Holmes or Ryan Schraeder likely going in as the starter at right tackle, although Gabe Carimi is possible. Matthews played on the left side last year at Texas A&M, so that transition shouldn't be a problem. But Schraeder had issues when he started as a rookie last season at right tackle. He did show improvement and he is bigger and stronger.

The problem when front-line offensive linemen like Baker go down is that the backup offensive linemen in the league aren't that good. Each team might have one or two developmental players as backups, players who could become starters, but mostly it's bad players trying to fill spots. I asked some coaches and personnel people why it is that way, and the answer I got the most was because big guys want to play defense more now. The second answer was because linemen develop slower now in college because of the spread offenses. At any rate, the preseason really exposes the poor line play by the backups across the league. I wouldn't want to be a backup quarterback, that's for sure.

If the new offense is going to be a good thing for Giants quarterback Eli Manning, we haven't seen it yet. Manning has completed one of his nine passes for 6 yards so far in the preseason. That isn't quite coming close to the completion percentage of 70 percent that new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo is looking to get out of Manning. He did have a 50-yard strike to Victor Cruz wiped out when Cruz fumbled and then the recovery was negated by an illegal-contact penalty on the Colts.

Andy Dalton was 8/8 for 144 yards and a score vs. the Jets Saturday.
Andy Dalton was 8/8 for 144 yards and a score vs. the Jets Saturday. (USATSI)

Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton looked really good against the Jets. He was 8 for 8 with two deep balls, including a 43-yard strike for a touchdown to Mohamed Sanu. Hue Jackson's offense is going to be good for Dalton. Watch. In two preseason games, Dalton is 11 for 13 with 215 yards and a passer rating of 144.4. After spending time in Cincinnati last week, it's clear Jackson and Dalton have forged a nice bond. For Jackson, he's thrilled to have another chance to call plays.

"It is different here than anywhere it's ever been," Jackson said. "We have a lot of good players here. It's a different time in my life and I am just trying to make the most of it. Hopefully, we can do our job and win a championship."

The players I talked with raved about the toughness Jackson will bring to the offense. They pointed out in the preseason game that receiver A.J. Green was asked to crack down on a linebacker, and he did it. "That's what Hue brings," tackle Andrew Whitworth said. As for Sanu, he is improved. With Marvin Jones down for six weeks or so, the Bengals really need him and he looks poised to fill that spot -- and maybe more.

Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier was everywhere in the Steelers' victory over Buffalo. He had nine tackles and an interception. The Steelers have to love his ability to cover ground in the run game and especially in coverage.

Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who will be getting a new contract after the season, can't be blocked this summer. In camp, he's been killing the Bucs' inside people, but many said it was because the Tampa Bay guards were awful, which they are. But he's been dominant in two preseason games as well. McCoy is making an early case to be on Defensive Player of the Year watch lists. He's been that good.

The Packers' no-huddle offense will be downright scary this season. Aaron Rodgers will put up the best numbers of his career. I love the pace they played with against the Rams. Rodgers and the no-huddle is a perfect match. Can you say early MVP?

I was impressed by Packers center JC Tretter against the Rams. He did some really good things. He lacked push in a couple of run plays, but he did a nice job with the tempo and the protection. That's important, especially for a first-time starter.

Another quarterback poised for a huge year in the no-huddle offense is Ben Roethlisberger. He looked comfortable running it against the Bills. The best part of that is it takes the offense out of the hands of coordinator Todd Haley. The Steelers were clearly better with Roethlisberger in the no-huddle last season.

When the Colts signed Hakeem Nicks as a free agent, they thought they had a steal. Now it looks like that could be the case. Nicks looked good against his former team, the Giants, Saturday night. He had five catches for 53 yards, but it was the way he looked that was most impressive. He was fast and quick. Nicks does look funny in that No. 14 jersey though.

If Percy Harvin stays on the field for Seattle, he will put up huge numbers. But can he stay on the field? He looked fast and quick against the Chargers, catching four passes for 31 yards.

He might not start the opener, but Jaguars rookie Blake Bortles continues to make faster progress than the team expected. Bortles is one of those players who seems to turn it on when the game starts. He is clearly much better in game action than in practice, although he has improved in practice lately as well. Bortles will get time with the first team this week against Detroit, but no matter what happens, I would expect Chad Henne to start the opener. But Bortles could be in there early this season -- which the Jaguars didn't expect.

I also think the Vikings should just start Teddy Bridgewater and the Browns should start Johnny Manziel. But I don't get the vibe that will happen either.

The Panthers' offensive line is a big worry. Cam Newton's legs are going to get a workout.

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