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Red Zone Play: NFL Trades Integrity For Excitement

Is the system biased against star defenders or just J.J. Watt?

Jacksonville Jaguars v Houston Texans Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

We’ve all seen it countless times, J.J. Watt overpowers an opposing offensive lineman on his way to making yet another highlight reel move, and then at the last second the lineman holds Watt, preventing him from making a play.

Last season, when it first became glaringly apparent to me, I started counting - and gave up when I was well into the double digits due to the sheer frustration factor of it all.

This year, not only has it not changed for the better, it seems to have gotten worse.

J.J. Watt:

There were a couple of holding calls out there, that it’s just, it’s every week. The ref literally admitted to me that guy held me on one play, and he didn’t throw the flag. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with that. When after a play, I look over at the ref and he says, ‘Yes, I saw him hold you, but I didn’t throw the flag.’

That was after the Week Two game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. In Week Three, when facing the San Diego Chargers, not only did the open holding season on Watt continue, there were more than one blatant illegal block in the back play where Watt beat his man, only to have the offensive lineman turn and shove Watt from behind, hands firmly planted in the numbers on the back of Watt’s jersey, to push him out of the play.

While most fan bases truly believe their teams get done wrong by the officials, it’s rare to have a ref admit openly to bias and have that story picked up by the national media, only to be swept under the rug the following week.

There’s no possible way the NFL isn’t aware of this. With so many cameras and so many people devouring game film for thousands of hours every week, it’s well known this sort of thing happens. Not only to Watt, but to Von Miller, Khalil Mack and other premier defenders.

If the NFL knows and does nothing about it, one can believe they condone it. Why would they do that? In a game they allegedly put so much effort into making as fair as possible?

The answer: Excitement.

If Watt, Miller, Mack, Aaron Donald and the rest of the elite pass rushers had their way, more quarterbacks would have less success, less passing yards, and more stalled drives. With that, overall scoring declines and since most fans would far prefer to see a 38-35 barnburner over a 14-13 defensive battle, the NFL quite possibly does what it sees fit to allow more scoring.

But at what cost? Where is the fine line between building excitement and becoming a sham? How far will the fan bases allow referee tampering to go for the sake of exciting games?

From the current metrics, pretty darn far...

With the NFL continually having some of the highest rated TV broadcasts across all viewing genres, sold out stadiums, merchandise sales greater than the gross national product of many nations, it seems The Goose That’s Laying The Golden Eggs is doing very well, and if allowing offensive players to cheat against the likes of Watt, Miller and Mack is what has to happen, prepare to get used to it. I mean, who messes with a system that generates $16 BILLION in revenue?

So what’s a fan of a defensive star to do? Sit back and take it. Pass interference has favored the wide receiver for decades now. Apparently, we’re now in an era where holding, illegally blocking, and otherwise doing whatever it takes to stop a stud defender is en vogue as well.

Thankfully, all that nonsense hasn’t stopped J.J. Watt from racking up insane stats over the course of his career. He’s currently six sacks away from the 100 Sack Club, making him the 34th player in history to join that fraternity since the NFL started tracking sacks in 1982. Looking ahead on the schedule, expect that feat to happen no later than Week Seven, when the Texans face the Colts and new starting quarterback Jacoby Brissett.

In the meantime, let’s hope Houston gets some more defensive-slanted officiating crews and the NFL takes a hard look at how their defensive stars are being treated in game. Imagine how many sacks Watt would have without the uncalled holding penalties. Imagine what that would do for Houston’s overall win-loss total since he came along.

What do you think? Is it a big deal? Do you care if the NFL gives away its integrity to make games more exciting? Think Watt would have 200 sacks by now if opponents weren’t allowed to cheat?