As he put the finishing touches on a recent defensive game plan, Raiders defensive coordinator Gus Bradley casually watched the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game between Pittsburgh and Wake Forest.
What jumped onto the screen at one point almost gave him heartburn.
And maybe a nightmare or two.
Pitt’s quarterback Kenny Pickett started running through a tough race and found clear ground in the middle of the Wake Forest defense. Then, just as two defensive players from Wake Forest began to converge on him, Pickett made a sliding gesture. Typically, when a quarterback begins the sliding motion, defenders should stand up and let him touch the ground without touching. As they are educated, by rule, this is what the players did.
Only Pickett had a trick up his sleeve. Rather than slide to the ground, he jumped into the running position and was crushed by defenders en route to a touchdown. Essentially, he used a rule designed to protect quarterbacks in order to deceive the defense on his way to a score.
Bradley almost jumped out of his chair,
“I know there was a little part of me that said, ‘Oh it’s gone now,'” Bradley said.
The implication is clear. And it shines a light on how games are called in a way that not only protects quarterbacks, but also potentially gives them a competitive edge in certain situations.
While a college quarterback can use a measure of protection to deceive opponents, an NFL player can too.
âIt’s dangerous,â Bradley said. âYou start doing this type of action, and it’s kind of an unwritten rule that you protect him, he’s going to make some good decisions. But you just hope it doesn’t go on and on, because I saw it, and it’s a challenge when quarters do that. You open up to where, “Hey, we’ve got to protect him,” and then something like that happens. “
Meanwhile, NFL officials might be helpless to do anything about it. However, the NCAA announced Thursday that a game would have to be called off if a quarterback attempted a false slip in the future.
“In a big game, in a big opportunity like this, he did what he had to do,” said Bradley. “But you just hope it doesn’t continue and move up to our level.”
It probably is to some extent. With the way the rules are written to protect quarterbacks, defensive players are so aware of how carefully they must tackle quarterbacks that they can sometimes reduce their aggression in a way that allows them to break free.
For example, in the Raiders’ loss to the Washington soccer team on Sunday, defensive end Maxx Crosby was flagged for unnecessary roughness while sacking WFT quarterback Taylor Heinicke. Crosby’s offense, in the referees’ interpretation, landed on Heinicke with all or most of his body weight. As a rule, the fielder should focus on wrapping the passer with the fielder’s arms rather than falling on him.
On the restart, which is not available on passer penalties, Heinicke fell back when Crosby hit him, and the momentum of the two players caused the mutual fall. Crosby didn’t have enough time to fully extricate himself, and he stretched out his arms to alert the umpires that he was doing all he could to avoid a penalty.
âIn the heat of the moment you can see Maxx trying to put his arms up, and that’s what we’re trying to do,â Bradley said. “Don’t put all your weight on him, raise your arms.”
Nonetheless, he was posted for 15 yards.
âIt’s something you have to deal with these days,â Crosby said. âThe game has changed a lot. You have to adapt and play a little smarter.
But for now, he’s not going to change his approach.
âI try not to think about it,â Crosby said. “I try to keep the same pursuit and relentlessness that I always have.”
On the other hand, he also understands that just doing his job can lead to bad things.
âI don’t want to hurt the team. That’s what bothers me, âCrosby said. âI’m playing fast, and we’re trying to get off the field, it’s third and 10, and I hit the quarterback and I get a penalty. So that’s what hurt me. It’s part of the game, but it’s difficult.