Bring a Snickers.
And keep your favorite pizza joint on speed dial.
Because, based on the number of penalties called on the Green Bay Packers’ defensive backs by the NFL’s officials the past two days, there might be some long Sundays in Green Bay and around the league.
“As many flags as we’ve had out there the last two days, it might be a six-hour game,” joked defensive coordinator Dom Capers on Friday evening of the league’s increased crackdown on defensive backs touching receivers more than 5 yards downfield.
“Oh, man. Did you guys see the flags yesterday (and today)? Oh, man, it was raining flags out there,” cornerback Tramon Williams said after Friday’s practice. “We just have to play our game at the end of the day. If they want to throw flags every day like they did at practice, we’re just going to have to play a six-hour game. It is what it is. Obviously, the refs’ jobs right now is to come out and emphasize the new rules. They’re warning us right now. Obviously, we have to make adjustments to it and it’s going to be an adjustment period. But how much can we really change? That’s the question.”
As if the offensive players don’t have enough of an advantage, the league plans on cracking down on defensive holding and illegal contact against receivers.
“We started practice today and I think we (flagged) 10 out of the first 10 plays on the DB-receiver drill," referee Ed Hochuli said in a rules briefing with reporters on Thursday. “Players will get it. The players adjust. They understand the rule changes, and they adjust.”
The defensive backs might understand the rules but it doesn’t mean they like them.
“What they’re stressing right now is any tug of the jersey, PI (pass interference). Period,” Williams said. “Any tug of the jersey, PI. That's why you've been seeing so many flags out there. It doesn't matter where it is. They say you can be running down the field just with your hands on the receiver. Chances are they're going to emphasize PI right now, it may be called right now. Which is a little ridiculous but it's emphasis time, so that's what they have to do.”
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers has seen plenty of changes during his long tenure in the NFL. He got his first job in the NFL as New Orleans’ defensive backs coach in 1986. Through the years, he’s see plenty of changes — with most of them working against the defense.
“I’ve been through so many cycles of this because I was a DB coach for so many years,” Capers said. “I just know the process: the competition committee meets, they pull out what the points of emphasis are going to be, they go to the officials meeting and communicate the way they want things called. The officials come in and they communicate it to us. We go out on the practice field and you saw all those flags out there today. You’re going to see a ton of flags in preseason games because the tone will be set for the regular season. We’ll start out, you might see more early on. It will be interesting to see (if it continues into the regular season).”
The Packers play multiple coverages, but one of the things Williams and Sam Shields do best is play aggressive, press-man coverage. That style almost makes contact inevitable. Thus, if the officials continue their flag-throwing ways, Green Bay might have to abandon one of its coverage staples.
“We’re going to continue to coach the way we’ve been coaching,” Capers said. “The things they’re putting emphasis on, we’re going to let our guys know that if this is going to be called, then we can’t do it. That’s why these officials are in here right now — to let us know that this is the way we’re going to call things — and we have to coach to that. You don’t ever want to lose a game because you’re outside the rules or you’re giving your opponent a bunch of a penalty yardage. So, the emphasis is what we’re you guys have seen out there the last two days.”
On the other side of the equation, the league’s emphasis on enforcing illegal contact and defensive holding should help Green Bay’s offense. That’s especially true for its showdown at Seattle in Week 1, with the Seahawks fielding one of most aggressive secondaries in the league.
“I think it will be interesting because we talked to them yesterday and there are some areas of emphasis with illegal contact and defensive holding, but also offensive pass interference,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “I think you’re going to see the passing game ref’d a little more tightly this year. We’ll see what happens. Different crews will interpret things differently, obviously, but I was joking with this crew that we might want them to head up to the Pacific Northwest in about a month.”
Williams isn’t buying the officials’ insistence that offensive pass interference will be more tightly regulated. He’s heard that song and dance before. During Friday’s practice, cornerback Jumal Rolle was in position to intercept a pass to Davante Adams. Instead, Adams gave Rolle a subtle shove and came up with a touchdown reception. No flag was thrown, which led to quiet veteran Julius Peppers complaining to one of the officials for at least 5 seconds.
“I mean, it’s always been skewed offensively,” Williams said. “Obviously, the offense already has the advantage. Basically, what they’re telling us as DBs, I mean, we’re the best athletes on the field (laughs), so we just have to do a lot more.”
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.