Ravens concerned about pass interference rules

WESTMINSTER -- The factors that prompted a renewed emphasis from the NFL to strictly enforce existing pass interference rules aren't all that complicated to grasp.<br><br> Especially after observing the New England Patriots' bruising secondary mugging the Indianapolis Colts' talented receivers in the last AFC title game.<br><br>

Or the fact that passing yardage averages dipped to their lowest level in 11 years, 200.4 yards per contest in 2003, despite 238 defensive pass-interference calls to rank fourth among all penalties assessed.

Or perhaps it's the common-sense business response by a popular league aware of surveys that show higher scoring tends to attract an even larger fan base.

Count the Baltimore Ravens among the skeptical and disgruntled, especially the aggressive cornerback tandem of Gary Baxter and Chris McAlister who thrive in press coverage.

"You're going to see a lot of birds flying," Baxter said. "This is an offensive league. I guess they want more points scored. I think it's going to hurt the TV ratings.

"People are going to get tired of seeing the flags and people are going to get tired of the game getting stopped. People want to watch guys compete."

The NFL competition committee revised a guideline for an existing chucking rule for the first time in a decade.

Beyond five yards from the line of scrimmage, if a receiver attempts to run his route, the defender can't continue to jam him without penalty.

Hence, expect a flurry of yellow flags to fly through the air while defenses try to adjust during preseason games.

"This is football," Baxter said. "It's not tennis. It's not volleyball. If they're not going to let us push off, they really need to look at the fact that when receivers come out of their break, they push us to create separation. They need to call that."

NFL officials say that they will allow incidental contact to go on so long as no clear advantage is gained. The Patriot Act is pending, though.

"I am deeply concerned about the effects and the degree with which they are going to call it," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "I'm not sure the officials know. If they call it to the degree with which they are articulating it now, then this is going to become a nothing but a Cover 2 league because you are not going to be able to play any man."

In a briefing Thursday at the Ravens' team hotel that included a video presentation, officials outlined their mandate to enforce the illegal contact rule more stringently to boost passing opportunities.

"Basically, the competition committee decided that they wanted to put the emphasis back on the receiver being able to run his route, unrestricted, back like they did in 1994," umpire Undrey Wash said.

"When a receiver in his timing pattern, was trying to run an out or a skinny post, they were getting bumped past the five-yard touch zone. So, disrupting their timing had an effect on a receiver running his route."

Curiously, Wash maintained that he hasn't seen the film of the AFC title game. He also said that infractions will be handled the same way in the preseason as they are in the 17th week of the season.

Not surprisingly, the negative response to the point of emphasis on pass interference and illegal contact tilted toward the defense.

Ravens receiver Travis Taylor was already licking his chops at the thought of being able to run a fly pattern without being jabbed in the ribs or forearmed in the throat.

"It's better for the receivers," Taylor said. "A lot of times the defensive back will get down the field and try to hold and pull. It's not going to stop completely.

"I can guarantee you they're not going to call it on every play of the game. It's going to happen. You've got to go out there and play, so why sit there and cry about it?"

Already, there are rampant estimates about astronomical increases in passing yardage and scoring.

The pass-happy St. Louis Rams and Peyton Manning's Colts might post record totals.

Baxter is set to become an unrestricted free agent after this season. He has a predictable answer for what should be done for himself and McAlister, who hasn't reported to camp because of a contract dispute.

"I think it's going to be harder for the cornerback, and I think the cornerback should get paid more money just for the fact that this new rule is here," Baxter said. "If you get a true shutdown cornerback, big bucks."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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