Extra Points: Flag fest 2014: NFL is overreaching

Updated: 8/18 12:54 pm

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Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - A flame burns its brightest right before it goes out, a simple notion the NFL could learn a lot from.

The league's popularity is well documented but that's no guarantee things will continue along the same trajectory for the foreseeable future. After all, our country's history is strewn with the corpses of once thriving businesses which failed to evolve or adapt and perished because if it.

Inertia is often the culprit, a failure to think two steps ahead and innovate with the changing times due to current successes that make it seem like the status quo is the best course of action.

In the NFL's case, that status quo means focusing on the business and legal sides of things with little regard for the viewing pleasure of the fan who made the league the juggernaut it is.

It's a prudent short-term strategy because there has been little to no erosion in the NFL's popularity despite significant tinkering to the game which has made it far less appealing as a pure entertainment vehicle.

That however, doesn't mean there isn't a tipping point where the games becomes so watered-down and tepid that people slowly start turning their noses up to the product.

Preseason football is never compelling and rarely interesting but it's taken a nosedive in 2014 thanks to the league's enhanced emphasis on certain penalties, including illegal contact, defensive holding and hands to the face.

The emphasis on removing physicality from what by nature is a very violent sport is a direct result of safety concerns, along with the misguided notion that every NFL fan wants the league to become some kind of outdoor version of the Arena Football League with constant scoring at a breakneck pace.

A simple survey could clear up that tortured philosophy in one afternoon but the league as a whole has adopted a haughty mentality which screams "we know what you want."

Most believe the new overreaching emphasis on illegal contact and defensive holding is a direct result of the Seattle Seahawks' success last season, almost a warning to "The Legion of Boom," the ultra-physical defensive backfield which consistently beat up on opposing receivers en route to winning Super Bowl XLVIII.

Despite being the most penalized team in the league the Seahawks reached the pinnacle by forcing officials to throw the flag in key moments, something Pete Carroll correctly surmised most wouldn't be willing to do because the vast majority of zebras really do want the players to decide the games, not their judgment calls.

In the old days, the answer to the Seahawks' success would have been a market correction fueled by coaches around the league.

Armed with the knowledge that the best team in football had collected a plethora of big, rugged defensive backs, mentors would have responded with undersized, ultra-quick route runners in which the Seattle defense couldn't get its hands on -- think the old Washington Redskins' "Fun Bunch" or the "Three Amigos" in Denver.

The league is not waiting for that natural evolution, however, and has taken matters into its own hands. So far there has been an average of 19 flags a game in the preseason, up nearly seven per game from the same period in 2013 and something Carroll hopes changes when the regular season gets underway.

"I hope that the league office will be open to the conversation," the veteran coach said. "It doesn't seem quite right. It seems like there are too many calls being made and too many incidental calls that seem to be affecting the game. So, we'll see -- It's obviously different. So, the question is: Is it better? I don't know."

Most of us do know and it's not.

For now, though, the league is holding it's ground, insisting that the renewed emphasis on these particular penalties will continue throughout the regular season.

"We're not going to change how we're calling the games once the regular season starts," NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino told MMQB.com.

Blandino's belief, however, is that teams will adjust to the stricter rules and play accordingly, meaning the extra flags will disappear, a scenario the league has tried to sell from the beginning of this process.

"The way the game's being officiated now is the way it's going to be officiated when the season begins," Blandino said. "We have to remain consistent. I knew we'd see a spike in calls when we put out these points of emphasis.

"But coaches adjust, and players adjust. They have to, and they know it. And we'll correct our officials when we feel they're being overzealous with certain calls."

Carroll's not about to adjust, though, and the Seahawks' plan will remain the same -- beat up receivers and force the referees to throw the flag.

Here's hoping they keep in their pockets.

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