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The NFL Officially has a Problem

The NFL Officially has a Problem

An Official Crisis?

The powers that be in the NFL are not happy.

The 24 hours after the Super Bowl have been not been dominated by talk of One for the Thumb, two of the longest plays in Super Bowl history, Jerome Bettis’ triumphant departure from the NFL, or even Big Ben posting the worst quarterback rating for a winning signal caller. Nobody’s even talking about the lame show that the ancient, washed up group formerly deserving of the title The World’s Greatest Rock and Roll put on at halftime.

No, the buzz is all about the officiating. That’s the absolute last thing that Tags and company want to be the talk of the town. And it’s not just the lunatic fringe on the message boards and call-in shows that are in an uproar over the zebras; the major newspapers and network TV have the story plastered all over the place as well. It’s enough to make Paul Tagliabue wish that there had been a wardrobe malfunction this year or wish that they had allowed the racier versions of the GoDaddy.com commercials to be shown, anything at all to take attention away from the guys in the striped shirts.

There were four calls that are drawing most of the attention today, calls that all went against Seattle and possibly cost them a net of some 18 points or more in a game that they lost by 11. Those four are the offensive pass interference on Darrell Jackson, the touchdown awarded to Roethlisberger just before halftime, the holding call on Seattle that called back a pass that went to the Steelers one, and the personal foul called on Matt Hasselbeck when he tackled the defender who had intercepted his pass.

They were all peculiar in their own way. The pass interference call was a late one, coming only after the Steeler defender turned and complained to the official, who had shown no inclination to throw a flag before that. The TD call on Big Ben’s run was also a delayed call. If the ball did indeed eke over the goal line as he was going down, why did the official not make the call immediately? Instead, he waited until Roethlisberger had pushed the ball over goal after he was clearly down. The holding call looked like nothing other than routine pass blocking and the cut block called on Hasselbeck was just a flat-out missed call.

This comes on top of a postseason filled with questionable calls, from a pass interference flag against New England to a reversal of an interception by the Steelers for which the league issued an apology.

The Redskins had more than their share of controversial calls in their games this year. In Denver, an apparent safety was overturned on replay under a questionable interpretation of the tuck rule. The call on Mike Alstott’s two-point conversion that represented the winning points during the regular season in Tampa Bay was just the last of several head-scratchers by the referee crew on that day.

The cumulative effect of all of this has been quite damaging to the NFL. An unscientific poll of members of the CPND Redskins Addiction Board here shows that a majority believes that NFL officials have performed with “alarming incompetence”. Anyone who is going to shell out money to attend an athletic event or invest the time to watch one on TV wants the outcome to be determined by the players, not by the officials. The more people perceive that the team that gets the calls is the one that wins, the less popular the game will be.

The worse news for Tagliabue is that people thinking that the referees are merely grossly incompetent is the better case scenario here. There are those who are calling the very integrity of the officials into question. Many of them are bitter Seahawk fans who probably will calm down and angry gamblers who gave the four. But not all of them are from the Pacific Northwest and not all of them are going to go back to watching football as usual.

I am not one to believe that there is any conspiracy to tilt the officiating towards one team or another. As a practical matter, there isn’t enough gain in having, say, the Steelers win to balance the risk of the incredible damage the league would suffer if word of any plot to fix a game were to get out.

That being said, I will say this. If a crew of officials, for whatever reason, was inclined to fix a game they would have made exactly the calls they made against the Seahawks on Sunday. The timing and impact of the calls could not have been better had there been a sinister plot to ensure that the Steelers would be crowned as champs.

Perception is reality, especially in a sports league. The NFL will only remain popular if people perceive that it’s on the up and up. The events of Super Bowl Sunday will no doubt harden the suspicions of the conspiracy theorists and push more people into the ranks of the cynics.

It’s enough to make Tagliabue long for the days of Janet Jackson and Desperate Housewives.

In the next installment here, this observer’s suggestions on how to fix some of the problems with the officiating.

Rich Tandler is the author of The Redskins From A to Z, Volume 1: The Games. This unique book chronicles every game the Redskins played from 1937 through 2001. It is available at www.RedskinsGames.com

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Need to Know: Redskins’ Friday draft picks could be just as vital to success as first-rounder

Need to Know: Redskins’ Friday draft picks could be just as vital to success as first-rounder

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, April 23, four days before the April 27 NFL draft.

Timeline

Days until:

—Redskins rookie camp (5/12) 10
—Redskins OTAs start (5/24) 31
—Training camp starts (7/27) 95
—Redskins opener vs. Eagles (9/10) 140

In search of someone, anyone, to stop the run

One of the areas the Redskins needed to improve last year was their rushing defense on first down. In 2015, they gave up a league-worse 5.0 yards per carry on first down. That was the worst performance in the league. It’s pretty tough to play defense when a handoff makes it second and five. The Saints, who had a historically bad defense that year, were second, fiving up 4.8 yards a pop.

Well, it was no better for the Redskins defense in 2016. Again, they gave up 5.0 yards per carry on first down, again the worst performance in the league.  Remember, this is on first down, when teams are most likely to run.

The Redskins’ problems on third down were well known. They were dead last in the league allowing first downs on 46.6 percent of third-down attempts. For context, an average performance on third down is allowing about 38 percent and the best teams are around 35 percent.

That doesn’t tell the whole story, however. The Redskins weren’t very good at getting teams to third down. They allowed first downs on 33.8 percent of their opponents’ second-down plays. That put them in the bottom third of the league. Again, you don’t have to look too hard to connect the dots to link that back to the five yards per rushing play on first down. Second and five is a piece of cake most of the time.

You don’t need an advanced degree in statistical analysis to figure out that the Redskins defense isn’t going to get much better if they can’t stop teams from running the ball on first down.

It’s easy to point to the defensive line, which has not been very good, and say that the problem is there. That certainly has something to do with it. But the Redskins didn’t have a very good D-line in 2014 and they allowed 4.1 yards per first-down rushing attempt, a performance that was right at the league average.

The factor that was common in 2015 and 2016 and was different in 2014 was the defensive coordinator. It’s possible that opposing teams found a flaw to exploit in Joe Barry’s scheme that wasn’t there in Jim Haslett’s (which surely had flaws in other places).

But X’s and O’s can only get you so far. The Redskins will be looking to take a defensive lineman early and perhaps use an additional pick or two at the position later in the draft. While getting one who can rush the passer would be a plus, they need a run stuffer who can take snaps on first down and bottle up the ground game.

The focus in the draft will be on the first-round pick but, as has been discussed here many times, that pick is unlikely to be a defensive lineman. There isn’t likely to be one at 17 who would represent good value. That could mean that the Redskins’ second- or third-round pick, perhaps an interior lineman like Caleb Brantley of Florida, Larry Ogunjobi of Charlotte, or Montravius Adams of Auburn, is just as important to the team’s success as the first-round pick.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Mock drafts, cap bargains

Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Mock drafts, cap bargains

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, April 22, five days before the April 27 NFL draft.

Timeline

Days until:

—Redskins rookie camp (5/12) 20
—Redskins OTAs start (5/24) 32
—Training camp starts (7/27) 96
—Redskins opener vs. Eagles (9/10) 141

The Redskins week that was

Redskins full 2017 schedule released—Even with the Caps and Wizards in full playoff mode, the DMV stops to take a look and see when the Redskins will be playing. The Thanksgiving game was surprising. It’s another working day but I worked at various places since I was 14 and last year was the first time I’ve had to work on Thanksgiving so I can’t complain too much about working two in a row. It’s a small price to pay for having the best job in the world.

Don't count out any RB for Redskins at 17—Yeah, I know that NFL teams aren’t supposed to take running backs in the first round any more. But that is one of those trends that comes and goes. In 2013 and 2014 there were no RBs taken in the first. Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott in the last couple of years began to shift the thinking. If the Redskins think that Dalvin Cook or Christian McCaffrey can help them win games more than any other player on the board they should pull the trigger.

Rise of Patrick Mahomes could bring big payoff for Redskins—It seems likely that quarterbacks Deshaun Watson and Mitchell Trubisky will be taken before the Redskins pick at No. 17 goes on the clock. That means that two players in whom the Redskins might be interested will be available, pushed back by the quarter backs. Could Mahomes, out of Texas Tech, push a third player back to Washington. The buzz is that a team might grab him in the first half of the first round.

The Redskins' five best salary cap bargains for 2017—When I started pulling the numbers for this post I thought I’d find more key players with salaries of under $1 million. I only found three and one of them is the kicker. This means that they don’t have very many late-round or undrafted players who are contributing a lot of value. They need more out of players like Anthony Lanier, Matt Ioannidis and Maurice Harris. That is how a team thrives in the salary cap era. A couple of Saturday picks could make or break this draft.

Redskins mock 2.0 goes offense early, defense often—There are a lot of ways the first 16 picks of this draft can work out. It seems almost certain that everyone’s favorite first-round pick, a stud defensive lineman, won’t be a realistic option on the board. This could send things in an odd direction for the Redskins. It’s fun to do a mock and I’ll do one or two more prior to draft day but there are too many variables to think that it has a high degree of accuracy. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

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