SEATTLE — So much for Flag Day only being a holiday in June.
As expected, the Seahawks — and the rest of the NFL — have endured an avalanche of penalty flags on each exhibition game day through two preseason weekends. Entering Sunday’s two exhibition games plus Monday night’s Cleveland-Washington tune-up, each NFL team had an average of 9.5 penalties accepted against it per preseason game.
That’s up from the 6.1 flags per game each team averaged during the 2013 regular season.
In the four exhibition games played Friday night — including Seattle’s 41-14 victory over San Diego — officials assessed a total of 86 penalties for 702 yards.
This is the predictable result of the league instructing its officials to focus on particular “points of emphasis.” That’s a term teams already know all too well — and fans have already come to despise, as evidenced by derisive Twitter hashtags related to #pointofemphasis.
Illegal contact by defensive backs on eligible receivers beyond 5 yards past the line of scrimmage, taunting and cursing after plays, hands to the facemask or helmet and elaborate celebrations are the main acts the league is targeting.
“It doesn’t seem quite right,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of all the flags.
Carroll said he’s already been discussing with the league possible tweaks to this new way of calling games in time for the regular season beginning Sept. 4.
“They’re open to the conversation about how it’s going,” Carroll said of league executives.
Carroll joked it was “a big deal for us” that Seattle’s eight penalties in the Chargers exhibition went for only 48 yards — “cut by a third,” he said of the penalty yardage. That was one week after the Seahawks had 13 flags for 131 yards in Denver.
The Seahawks’ 21 penalties against them in two exhibitions was tied with Chicago and the New York Jets for seventh-most in the league.
Seattle led the NFL with 128 flags in the 2013 regular season, an average of eight per game.
New Orleans has 32 penalties in two exhibitions this month. It had 22 penalties in Friday’s win over the Tennessee Titans, five more than the most the Saints have ever had in any regular-season game. Then again, two of those fouls were tight end Jimmy Graham leaping over the crossbar to dunk the ball following each of his two touchdown catches.
Teams knew this was coming. Officials visited each of the 32 training camps in late July and early August to explain what they’d be cracking down on this preseason, and how tightly they would be calling these exhibitions.
But Friday, Seahawks defensive back Jeremy Lane got a hands-to-the-face foul — while covering on a kickoff.
Of Seattle’s 21 penalties this month, seven have involved illegal contact by defensive backs, taunting an opponent following a play, and hands to the helmets of foes.
Two examples of overemphasis of the illegal-contact foul came on two calls in a three-play span in the third quarter Friday.
Phillip Adams got called for illegal contact yards downfield from where San Diego quarterback Kellen Clemens’ pass to David Johnson fell incomplete. Adams bumped into a Chargers wide receiver running a clear-out route for the tight end; his contact had no effect on the play that went in a different direction, and likely would not have been called last season.
Two plays later, with the Chargers at the Seahawks 6-yard line, Tharold Simon had an electric, 103-yard interception return for a touchdown nullified by the side judge. Simon’s contact — a hand set onto the chest of San Diego’s Dontrelle Inman — came at the 2-yard line, thus by rule it was legal, having come within five yards of the line of scrimmage. There was no contact by Simon after that or while the ball was in flight, or else the foul called would have been pass interference.
The pass-interference foul called on San Diego’s Brandon Flowers against Doug Baldwin in the end zone on Seattle’s first drive was also debatable. Flowers, the defender, appeared to absorb a forearm push in the chest from Baldwin while Russell Wilson’s pass was in flight; Flowers didn’t cause any contact.
The officials were so eager to call the illegal-contact foul Friday that referee Peter Morelli had to overrule one such flag thrown in the third quarter. Clemens had scrambled out of the pocket, by rule voiding the prohibition against contact by a defender on a receiver downfield. But the play showed how officials are showing tunnel vision on that call this month.
“It’s a challenge to everybody,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly told reporters in Foxborough, Massachusetts, Friday night after Philadelphia had 10 penalties at New England.
The Eagles had an average of 5.9 flags against it in 2013. They are getting 9.5 flags per game this preseason.
“We all have to figure it out,” Kelly said. “That’s the deal.”
Or is it?
Carroll talked Friday of possible self-correction by the league before the games begin to matter on Sept. 4 with the Packers-Seahawks regular-season opener in Seattle. He particularly addressed this new emphasis that is making what is already the toughest task in the NFL — legally defending a wide receiver in this pass-happy, heavily-legislated league — seemingly next-to-impossible to do.
The coach hopes this open dialogue will lead to an adjustment in how officials call this particular rule during the regular season.
“I hope that the league office will be open to the conversation. They already are, and I’ve already heard from them,” Carroll said. “They’re open to the conversation about how it’s going.
“It doesn’t seem quite right. It seems like there are too many calls being made and too many incidental calls that seem to be affecting the game. So, we’ll see. … It’s obviously different. So, the question is: Is it better? I don’t know.
“Hopefully, we will have a good conversation about it.”
The Seahawks — especially the defensive backs who believe the emphasis on illegal contact is targeting the aggressive way Seattle’s dominating secondary plays — are counting on Carroll to change this summer of NFL discontent.
Of the Simon-TD-return-that-
wasn’t play, safety Earl Thomas told a television network during Friday night’s broadcast: “That was a great play. I think Coach Carroll is going to do a great job of turning that into the league and seeing if it was right.”