Quite a bit has been made about the replacement referees so far through the first three weeks of the 2012 season and several have suggested that the Pittsburgh Steelers might have been the victim of a bad non-call Sunday in their loss Sunday to the Oakland Raiders.
The play in question was the 4th and 2 play from the Steelers 6 yard-line with two minutes left in the first half. As you can see in animated gif below, the Raiders have three players that make abrupt movements simultaneously prior to the snap of the ball, but all reset. Several Steelers players point this out and think that it is a penalty. Unfortunately defensive end Brett Keisel jumps across the line of scrimmage to point this out and the flags fly after the left guard moves with Keisel in the neutral zone. The referees huddle up and decide to penalize the Steelers for a neutral zone infraction. The penalty gave the Raiders an automatic first down at the Steelers 3 yard-line and the Raiders scored on the very next play.
Now here is what the NFL rulebook says below:
Article 8: Shifts. The offensive team is permitted to shift and have players in motion multiple times before the snap. However, after the last shift, all players must come to a complete stop and be in a set position simultaneously for at least one second. If any eligible backfield player goes in motion (one at a time) after the last shift and comes to a complete stop, there is no requirement for a full second pause before a second player can legally go in motion. However, if the first player has not come to a complete stop when the second player goes in motion, it is another shift and requires another simultaneous stop for at least one second by all players.
This past offseason the NFL Competition Committee added the below point of emphasis regarding shifts and here is the statement straight from the NFL’s competition committee report:
Prior to a snap, any quick, abrupt movement by an offensive player, or several offensive players in unison, which simulates the start of a snap, is a foul. These acts include (a) a quarterback in shotgun formation thrusting his hands forward in an exaggerated manner when there is not a simultaneous snap, (b) abrupt movement of the ball by the center, (c) abrupt movement by the center\'s head or other body part, and (d) a quick abrupt shift by two or more players in unison.
Part (d) is clearly what Keisel and the rest of the Steelers defensive players thought that the Raiders offense did as all three players abruptly shifted.
A "point of emphasis", as Mike Pereira, the former Vice President of Officiating for the National Football League points out, is taking an existing rule and telling the officials to interpret it to the letter of the law. There is to be no gray area. It is not a rule change but it can have a dramatic effect.
So by the looks of all of the above, the Steelers very well might have been a victim of a non-call. That being said, Keisel shouldn\'t have jumped across the line. Being as theses referees are replacements, they certainly were not up on this rule. Unfortunately it was a pretty big play in the game and the Raiders likely should have been penalized 5 yards and that point would have faced a 4th down and 7, which likely would have resulted in them kicking a field goal. So basically this wound up being a 4 point swing in favor of the Raiders.
I have reached out to Pereira on Twitter to confirm this, but have yet to hear back from him. Would this call have changed the outcome of the game? It is hard to say, but it is certainly worth pointing out nonetheless.