The NFL preseason is a time for testing offenses, beating down rookies and generally working the kinks out of a team’s play before the regular season starts. While doing all of that on last Thursday at Lambeau Field, Manning took it a step further to test a new NFL rule this year, which places the umpire behind the offense rather than the defense. Because several referees have been hurt lately – especially umpires in the heavy traffic zone behind the defense – the NFL’s competition committee decided to move the umpire behind the offense where there is less traffic (and no chance of using the umpire as a pick). In the few preseason snaps I have seen this year, I hadn’t really noticed whether or not the move affected the offensive tempo of the game until Thursday’s game in Green Bay with Manning behind center.
We all know, of course, that the Colts’ hurry-up, call-the-play-at-the-line, hyped-up-audible-screaming-mayhem led by Manning’s booming voice is the team’s bread and butter. The Colts offense makes its living on quick snaps, hurry-up play calls and an ever-changing tempo. They have done it for years to much success and won’t be changing anytime soon. With Manning behind center in the first series of the game against Green Bay, it was easy to see that Manning and the new umpire rule wasn’t going to be an easy transition.
With Manning at shotgun barking formations and the offense already set, the umpire was often just marking the ball, turning around toward Manning and running to get behind the offense before Manning decided to snap the ball. It was weird and hard to watch. Something wasn’t right in all of this. The fans could tell something was wrong and the umpire was definitely out of place.
Before Manning is allowed to snap the ball, the umpire must be set behind the deepest back behind the quarterback. To make sure that is the case, the quarterback must look to the line judge who will give him a signal that the umpire is set. For some quarterbacks, like the intelligent Manning, this is just another step in a complicated process of decision-making. For others, this just may be one step too many.
An example if you will. It’s third and 10, and the coach is late radioing in the formation and play-action pass to the tight-end over the middle. Quarterback calls the play in the huddle. Huddle breaks. Quarterback walks to line, studies the defense. Check the formation. Where is the safety? Is that linebacker blitzing? What’s the snap count? Did that corner just move up? OK, start the cadence…shit, did I check the side judge to make sure I can snap the ball? Wait, where did that safety go? What just happened?
You get the point. The last thing a quarterback should have to worry about is if the zebras are ready. They should be ready when the quarterback is ready. The offense has and should always rule the tempo of the game.
I am pretty sure Manning would agree. When he started to get into a hurry-up situation, it seemed the umpire was getting more and more in his way. The Colts were penalized twice during the game for starting the play before the side judge had given the OK to do so. Manning was pushing the issue and he certainly found that NFL coaches should have an issue with the rule change. Manning was certainly irritated at the referees for not being able to keep up with his hurry-up offense. For all of us, no matter what team we like, Manning is fighting the fight for us. It could be the Lions, Bears or Broncos in a two-minute drill to win or at least tie a game to make the playoffs, and the damn ref could be in the way of that. Thank you, Peyton Manning for addressing this now in preseason, rather than having to question it after a heart-wrenching loss to miss the playoffs.
Hearing and seeing the displeasure of Manning and other concerned coaches, the competition committee has said that it will continue to develop the umpire’s position to allow quick play, and as reported in the New York Times, may continue to tweak it until the end of preseason. In the meantime, the committee said, the referees need to hustle more to make it workable.
If I were a ref, or an umpire, to be more exact, I am not sure what is worse. Having linebackers mercilessly blast into me 10 times a game when they aren’t looking, or having to listen to Peyton Manning bitch and moan every other play because I am in the way.
Maybe its time refs wear helmets, and we keep things they way they have been? Seems like an answer to me, because the umpire behind the offense will not last long. Mark my words.