A Horse of a Different Color When it Comes to Detroit Lions Penalties


I know I’m not the only Lions fan upset with the phantom horse collar tackle called on Ndamukong Suh. The Lions defense was doing all they could do to keep the Cowboys out of the end zone early in the fourth quarter. Then, in one of Ndamukong Suh’s most amazing feats, he made the officials see something that didn’t happen.

Unfortunately, what the men in stripes thought they saw was a personal foul, a horse-collar tackle of Marion Barber. In reality, Suh grabbed the braids hanging out the back of Barber’s helmet, pulled Barber back into his arms and came down on top of the runner. The video below shows the play in questions:

Barber probably didn’t appreciate the play but hair is considered and extension of the uniform and fair game for defenders to grab; unless, of course, the officials think you’re doing something you’re not and throw a flag.

Mike Pereira, now an NFL on Fox contributor, was the head of officiating when the horse-collar rule was adopted in 2005. The subjective nature of a horse collar call was acknowledged at the time of implementation as noted in a May 24, 2005 USA Today article that included the following:

"Pereira isn’t concerned that his crews won’t be consistent and likens the judgment to the rule of thumb on face masks.“If it’s not obvious, they won’t call it,” Pereira said."

To Pereira’s credit, he did voice his disagreement with the call when the Fox broacast brought him in to explain the situation from his perspective. The problem is that the officials obviously did not operate under the expectation that horse-collar calls be made after obvious infractions.

Julian Peterson was called for a horse-collar personal foul of his own later in the game. Pereira didn’t have a problem with this call even though Peterson brought the ball carrier down from the side rather than the traditional horse-collar tackle from behind. This represents a bit of a gray area, at least in terms of how the rule was originally designed. The debate over the horse-collar began after former Cowboys safety Roy Williams injured wide receivers Terrell Owens and Tyrone Calico. The impetus was stated by USA Today as follows:

"Williams snatched both receivers with a grip from inside the back of their shoulder pads and immediately yanked them to the turf. The technique, or lack thereof, has stirred debate amid concern within the league about rising injury rates."

The article also offered this interpretation of the rule:

"As it is written, the rule wouldn’t prohibit a defender from grabbing the shoulder pad and using leverage to propel into the back of the ballcarrier. The immediate yanking down, committee members say, increases the injury risk."

The horse-collar rule is a good addition for player safety but some work needs to be done to ensure that the rule is enforced fairly and consistently. The call against Julian Peterson may have been valid but it could be argued that another officiating crew might rule differently. Debate over a rule subject to interpretation is not what the league needs in the midst of a season featuring some of the worst officiating in NFL history.

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