[size=18]Change in emphasis focuses officials on blindside tackle position[/size]
[img_r]http://cmsimg.greenbaypressgazette.com/apps/pbcsi.dll/bilde?Site=U0&Date=20080919&Category=PKR01&ArtNo=809200398&Ref=AR&Profile=1058&MaxW=318&Border=0[/img_r]When Chad Clifton takes on DeMarcus Ware on Sunday night, he'll be up against more than just one of the NFL's premier pass rushers.
At the behest of the league's competition committee, a mechanical change was made during the offseason to more closely officiate left tackles. The referee now focuses solely the blindside tackle entering Week 3, the left tackle on all 32 teams, since there are no left-handed starting quarterbacks with help in some alignments from the line judge.
It's impossible to analyze the impact after only two weeks, but the message is clear:
Blindside tackles should be in focus all season.
"That was the word from the competition committee," Mike Pereira, the NFL's vice president of officiating, said in a phone interview on Thursday. "They really felt like they wanted more consistent coverage on the left tackle and the right defensive end. You invest a lot of money in those people. That's certainly an important position, especially with a right-handed quarterback.
"We're not asking for more calls. We're just asking for more consistent calls."
By making it an emphasis, though, more calls might be what the league gets, particularly when it's fresh in officials' minds early.
Clifton, the Green Bay Packers' ninth-year veteran, has been flagged for holding three times, matching his career high in only two games.
None of the flags were thrown by the referees directly affected by the change. But the added scrutiny is one more challenge, at arguably the line's toughest position, as Clifton tries to prevent the likes of Dallas' Ware from decapitating his quarterback.
"Nothing really jumped out as me as far as, 'Oh, that looks like a blatant hold' or anything," Clifton said of watching the calls on tape. "I couldn't tell you what they saw. But just work on it, continue to work on your technique, try to keep your hands inside, and that's all you can do."
With the exception of five-receiver and "trips" formations, the task of officiating the offensive line is split between the referee, umpire and line judge. In the past, the referee sometimes had to look away from the quarterback to keep an eye on the right tackle. Under the amended policy, when the line judge is on the same side of the field as the referee, the line judge handles the right tackle. When they're on opposite sides, the umpire has everyone from right tackle to left guard and the line judge helps the referee by putting a second set of eyes on the left tackle.
It was the line judge who threw flags against Clifton on pass plays in each of the Packers' first two games. Against Minnesota in the opener, Clifton was pinched for a "hook and restrict" hold on All-Pro end Jared Allen. Last week at Detroit, he was called for a takedown of Lions end Dewayne White, who appeared to slip on the Ford Field turf on a speed rush to the outside.
In both instances, the flag came out from a significant distance when the defensive player lost his footing and went to the ground.
"That's a tough call for that guy," Packers left guard Daryn Colledge said, speaking generally. "He's got a lot of stuff to watch, and when Clifton puts a guy on the ground, whether that guy fell or Clifton threw him there, it's going to be a tight call for that guy. He's kind of in a tough situation."
Clifton's other hold was a relatively clear-cut "twist and turn" of Vikings cornerback Cedric Griffin on a toss left to Ryan Grant.
Like the Packers, who also had right tackle Mark Tauscher flagged against Minnesota, Dallas has four penalties for offensive holding on scrimmage plays two on left guard Chris Procter and one each on right guard Leonard Davis and left tackle Flozell Adams. Only Tampa Bay (five) has more.
The total number of offensive holding penalties (54) is down from a year ago, but in Week 1, penalties against left tackles (eight) were up.
"If the number of calls rise, and they're good calls, I don't have any problem with it," said Pereira, who reviews officials' performance in each game. "If the number of calls rise, and then, within that number, there's a bunch that shouldn't have been called, then I do have a problem with it."
How tightly holding is enforced can depend in part on who's throwing the flags. Referee Jeff Triplette and his crew worked the Packers-Vikings opener and last week's Falcons-Buccaneers matchup the only two games this season in which offensive holding has been called on five plays from scrimmage. Gene Steratore's crew has worked two of the five games in which it hasn't been called at all.
The emphasis works both ways. The Packers' right ends, starter Cullen Jenkins and third-down specialist Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, have drawn three holding calls on left tackles one on Minnesota's Artis Hicks and two on Detroit's Jeff Backus, all on running plays.
"I didn't know they put an emphasis until now," defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins said. "If you're playing fast, if you're trying to shed blocks fast and stuff, then when you try to come off and they grab you, the refs will see it more likely."
They've seen it, or at least thought they saw it, three times with Clifton, a Pro Bowler last season and widely regarded one of the game's best pass-blocking tackles. He entered the season with only 10 holding penalties for his career but has more through two weeks than any other player in the NFL.
While Clifton has held up fine overall in pass protection he held Allen without a sack and allowed one to White, on a play Aaron Rodgers held the ball too long one holding penalty at the wrong time could prove damaging.
"We've got to just be a little more attentive to keeping our hands inside and staying within the framework of the defender's body and just being above and beyond," Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "Were (the calls on Clifton) flagrant? Probably not. But we really don't have a case to argue once the (flag) comes out."
I don't mind a holding penalty if it means Rodgers stays cleaner.