By Adam Hoge-
CHICAGO — It’s common for NFL officials to call games tight in the preseason. In fact, it’s a yearly tradition.
The NFL and the league’s competition committee agree on new rules and points of emphasis each year and the preseason is the time for both players and officials to adjust to the changes.
But through two preseason games this year, the Bears are noticing the yellow flags more than ever. A total of 23 combined penalties were called in the opener against the Eagles last week and 21 more penalties were called Thursday night against the Jaguars. Twenty one of those 44 penalties were called on the Bears.
“At some point, in my opinion, you got to look at what’s better for the game,” Bears defensive end Jared Allen said Thursday night. “Are all these flags on the field better for the pace of the game? Is it a better fan experience? I don’t think so.”
The abundance of flags in last week’s opener contributed to the game ending about 3.5 hours after it started, which is almost unheard of for an NFL game that didn’t go to overtime. Thursday night’s game was closer to the usual three-hour mark, but the influx of flags on the field disrupted the flow of the game, especially in the second quarter, when at one point four penalties were called in the span of four plays.
“It doesn’t just seem to be mutually exclusive to our last two games,” Bears head coach Marc Trestman said. “It appears that it’s happening in other places. I’m not keeping an eye on it, but it appears to be happening that way. And we’ll just see how this whole thing evolves over the next week, week and a half, two weeks, as the preseason ends.”
The expectation is that the penalties will slow down by the time the regular season comes around, partially because the players will adapt and partially because the officials will relax the emphasis slightly. This year’s emphasis is mainly focused on hands-to-the face among linemen, as well as defensive holding/contact beyond five-yards in the secondary
Last week, the Bears were called twice for illegal use of the hands. Thursday night, they were called for it four more times.
“I’m all for the hands-to-the-face thing getting called, but it’s really not — I mean, if they’re left there and it becomes obsessive, yes, but it’s football,” Allen said. “We wear helmets for a reason. You’re going to get hit in the face.”
And if you think Allen is biased, he even took exception to a penalty called on the Jaguars Thursday night.
“I’m glad they called the roughing the passer for us, but I’m looking at that replay and in my opinion that’s not a roughing the passer call,” he said. “And if that is, I’m hosed, because I’m going to get about 20 of those this year.”
In general, many of the league’s rules seem to be favoring offenses. Quarterbacks are being protected more than ever and it’s becoming harder and harder for cornerbacks and safeties to cover receivers downfield. The Bears avoided any defensive holding/illegal contact penalties last week, but were called for three of them Thursday, one of which was declined.
Of course, as a defensive lineman, Allen is more worried about what he can and cannot do to the quarterback.
“This whole not chopping the quarterback’s arm, how else are you supposed to get the ball out? Right? So there are some things that I don’t quite agree with,” Allen said. “Obviously that’s the NFL and the Competition Committee’s deal, but I can’t think that all these flags on the field are better for the game.”
It seems fans agree, but officials traveling around training camps this month warned teams and reporters that there would like be more penalties called in the preseason. The amount should subside once the regular season comes around.
In the meantime, Trestman is taking the best approach he can.
“I’ll look at hands to the face, grabbing jerseys, illegal contact … We got to look at that and we got to coach through those things,” he said.
Right now, that’s all he can do.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for 87.7 The Game and TheGameChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.