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Dean Blandino recently created a bit of a stir at Eagles training camp. The NFL’s vice president of officiating told the Wall Street Journal that teams need to “understand that they don’t control the tempo; our officials do.”
Those comments made some people wonder whether the league’s officials will slow the tempo of Chip Kelly’s fast-paced offense. Several NFL referees were recently in town to address the league’s rules changes and also preside over parts of practice, and at least one veteran official doesn’t anticipate any issues with the Eagles’ offense.
“What we’ve seen over the last two days, we didn’t really have any problems,” said referee Scott Green, an NFL official for more than two decades. “We were indoors [Thursday]. It was a little hectic indoors. But [Friday] they were running 11-on-11 and we were getting the ball spotted. It didn’t seem out of the ordinary as far as the pace.”
If an offensive team doesn’t substitute between plays, there are no rules that prohibit how quickly the next snap can be taken. If the offensive team does switch players, the defense must be given the same opportunity. In that case, if the officials feel the defense hasn’t been afforded enough time to make changes, the referee can instruct the umpire to stand over the ball until an adequate substitution period has been completed.
Other ways to slow the speed of a game include changing balls on an incomplete pass or when a play goes out of bounds. The referee can also stand behind the deepest offensive back, which often requires extra time.
“The biggest thing is whether there’s a substitute on the play,” Green said. “If the offense substitutes, we will give the defense a chance to match up. If there’s not substitution by the offense, then it’s just a matter of us getting the ball and spotting the ball. Inside of two minutes, it’s helter skelter in a sense in that we just get the ball and spot it. Throughout the course of the game, it’s a more normal pace that we use.”
A year ago, the Patriots led the NFL by averaging 74.3 plays. The Lions were second (72.5) and the Colts were third (70.4). The Eagles averaged 67.4 plays, sixth most in the league.
The Patriots also led the league in tempo by running a play every 24.9 seconds. The Eagles – who don’t believe the rules will hinder their offense -- weren’t far behind, taking 26.5 seconds between snaps (fourth quickest in the league).
In matters not related to the pace of an offense, Green said most of the rules changes this year pertain to “player safety issues.”
“There’s the one that most people are talking about: the potential for a running back to receive a 15-yard penalty for personal foul where he puts his head down, lines up a player down field, tries to run over the player [and] hits him with the crown of his helmet. That’s a new rule change,” Green said. “There’s a rule change about an interior [offensive] lineman going back and peeling back and hitting a defensive player low. Again, that’s a safety rule. Of course, over the last few years, all of our rules have focused mainly on player safety issues.”