As we anticipated earlier in the week, Pete Morelli and his wild zeal of zebras (yes, that’s what you call a pack of zebras) had themselves a subpar game on Sunday in Oakland. Between inconsistent DPI calls and coaches getting calls on the field overturned, it was really a ‘pick your poison’ sort of game to find the worst of the worst calls.
The one that stands out the most, of course, came on the final drive, and sealed the deal for Oakland: the Will Hill hold.
If you ask referee Pete Morelli, he’ll tell you (with an unabashed sense of joy) that it was holding on number 33 of the defense, resulting in a first down. Why? Because his Back Judge said so.
If you ask Solomon Wilcots (even if you don’t, he’ll tell you anyway), he’ll tell you that “Hill’s gotta know better. You cover with feet, not hands beyond that 5 yard boundary.”
But was it really holding?
Under Further Review
The game feed doesn’t offer much in ways of replay of the penalty other than a bird’s eye view- something they incomprehensibly failed to do throughout the game in crucial moments- so we have to take this call based on what we can see.
Let’s take it to the gridiron gospel that is the NFL Rule Book.
Defensive Holding falls under the category of Illegal Contact, as described in Rule 8, Section 4. Based on the Rule Book, here’s what Holding entails:
Rule 8- Section 4- Article 3. Illegal Contact Beyond Five-Yard Zone
Beyond the five-yard zone, if the player who receives the snap remains in the pocket with the ball, a defender cannot initiate contact with a receiver who is attempting to evade him. A defender may use his hands or arms only to defend or protect himself against impending contact cause by a receiver.
First, let’s look at the replay from a couple of different angles. First one is via Garrett Downing’s Vine.
Now, let’s break it down, and see if this play meets all of these requirements.
Looking at the LOS from the initial snap, we see the imaginary 5-yard zone would end at the 12 yard line.
As shown below, when Raiders tight end Mychal Rivera and Hill make contact, they are roughly at the 7 yard line, which is well beyond the 5-yard zone.
But what that last image also shows is that, like Will Hill, Mychal Rivera is also in the process of extending his arms in the direction of Hill.
What we see next is not Hill impeding the route of Rivera, yet instead, Rivera plowing right through Hill.
Immediately after the contact, Rivera turns in on a ball, which inevitably ends up in Hill’s hands (below).
Going back to the Rule Book, let’s verify that the play meets the prerequisites for a hold:
-Beyond the five-yard zone (Rivera was beyond it)
-The player who receives the snap remains in the pocket with the ball (Carr was still in the pocket)
-A defender cannot initiate contact with a receiver (seemed simultaneous between Rivera and Hill, so it could’ve gone either way)
Receiver is attempting to evade him. (again, grey area given the route and could’ve gone either way)
Where this call truly fails is in the final line of the rule which states what is considered legal contact beyond the 5-yard zone:
A defender may use his hands or arms only to defend or protect himself against impending contact cause by a receiver.
In no way is it clear that Will Hill initiated contact, nor is clear that Rivera was attempting to evade Hill whatsoever. What is clear to me is that Hill and Rivera both have arms extended into the other’s midsection, and Rivera makes no attempt to avoid Hill whatsoever. With Rivera essentially running through Hill, Hill has the right to ‘defend or protect himself against impending contact caused by a receiver,’ which is exactly what he did.
Ask Hill himself, and he’ll agree that it was not a hold.
“Seeing the tight end come down the field, I stood inside, had position, he came and ran into me, and then we were fighting for the ball,” said Hill, per Ryan Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com. “I asked the official, and he said I held him. To me, I don’t think I did. He ran into me, like I said before. I just made a play on the ball.”
My suspicion here is that the Back Judge saw Hill’s arms extended, followed by some semblance of contact, and immediately threw the flag for holding. In this instance the play met 2 of the 4 requirements, with 2 more (initiating contact, receiver attempting to evade) questionable at best, which I believe should’ve made this a non-call for Incidental Contact.
Of course the Ravens shouldn’t have been surprised by this call. This particular penalty on Hill was the Ravens 10th penalty of the game for a total of 109 yards, and overall the 26th penalty of the game. Despite the fact that neither team was playing a squeaky clean game, that is an absolutely excessive amount of flags to be thrown (and that’s only accepted penalties!) and allowed the refs to shift the game into their control as opposed to letting the play on the field dictate the end results.
The best thing that could happen for the Ravens moving forward is to not see Morelli’s crew again until 2016.