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Ravens Defenders Adjusting To Stricter Refereeing

Posted Aug 13, 2014

The league’s officials are watching more closely for defensive contact beyond the first legal 5 yards.

Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith’s job keeps getting more difficult.

“In 10 years it will just be 7-on-7 and it’ll be illegal to play man coverage, I’m sure,” Smith said with a chuckle.

After the Seattle Seahawks cornerbacks mauled opponents on the way to a Super Bowl title last year, the NFL has announced that it will more stringently enforce penalties for illegal contact, defensive holding and interference by pass defenders.

The proof is in the preseason pudding.

Through the first week of preseason action and Hall of Fame Game (17 total games), there were 53 defensive holdings, 27 illegal contacts and 15 pass interference calls, according to ESPN. That's almost six pass-defense penalties a game.

Over all of last regular season (512 games), there were only 37 illegal contact penalties called in the NFL. There were 176 defensive holding penalties.

The Ravens secondary was penalized three times in the preseason opener against the 49ers. Cornerback Ckykie Brown was called for pass interference and holding and rookie cornerback Deji Olatoye was flagged for illegal contact.

“It’s a big adjustment,” Smith said.

“Having these referees out here, you start to really realize how ticky-tack these fouls are going to be called. It’s not going to be easy this year. Every game, you’re really going to have to be on your Ps and Qs as far as touching people after 5 yards.”

By rule, defenders are allowed to contact the offensive player within the first 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. They can’t hold them, but they can jam and try to re-route them. Beyond 5 yards, they can’t touch the receiver until the ball has arrived.

Fellow cornerback Lardarius Webb said the cornerbacks used to get away with making contact at 6 or 7 yards down the field. Now he sees it more strictly enforced at 5 yards.

“Now we just have to maintain and basically not go back for seconds,” Webb said. “Once I hit him, I can’t touch him again.”

The Ravens like to play jam, man coverage. Both the big-bodied Smith and Webb excel at it, and Baltimore likes to use it to give their pass rushers more time to get to the quarterback.

The key, the Ravens defensive backs say, will be focusing on covering with their feet. It’s not as much hand jockeying, and more being in good position because they’re moving around the field better.

“We teach the way the rules are interpreted,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “The rules are the rules. [The league] gives us very good clarification on what they intend to call. … We teach our guys to play good technique. When you play good technique within the rules, then you’re going to be fine.”

The league’s referees have been at Ravens practice also trying to figure out how much they’re supposed to call. They’ve been throwing a lot of yellow flags onto the field, often drawing gasps from the defensive backs.

The league may enforce the rule particularly aggressively during the preseason to force defenders to make adjustments. But it’s better for those flags to come now in practice and the preseason than in the regular season.

“That’s why we’re playing the preseason,” Webb said. “By Week 1, we should be adjusted to how to play this game. We need to get our jams in. There will be a lot of calls, but we will adjust to it.”

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