Captain Killjoy vs The Trick Play

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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34 Responses

  1. Mike Schilling says:

    This reminds me of a poker ploy I saw recommended in a book about card-play. Playing jacks or better, you have nothing. Someone on your right opens . You pretend not to have head him, and try to open yourself. When you’re corrected, you raise heavily instead. You haven’t broken any rules, but no one will suspect you’re bluffing.

    Of course, this is obsolete now that all anyone plays is that idiot game Texas Hold’em.Report

  2. Kazzy says:

    I was bothered by this play (and others like it) for different reasons. As you note, youth sports are (or ought to be) far, far more about instruction than victory. What is learned — by either team — when such tactics are employed? I worry that the only lesson is, “Do whatever it takes to win.” Which isn’t really the lesson we should be imparting on our young people.

    Such plays work because they take advantage of an opponent’s less-than-perfect mental state. Given that youth athletes are inherently and necessarily in less-than-perfect mental states — as one would hope as they possess still developing minds — to exploit that just feels cruel. “HA! What a bunch of dummies! They really thought there was a problem with the ball and stopped so he could address it!” “Um, they’re 13.”

    With professionals, who are paid adults for whom part of the preparation is positioning themselves as best they can both physically and mentally? Sure… trick away. But for middle or high school athletes? Shame on those coaches. College is a bit of a hybrid of the two. Assuming the teams are of roughly equivalent caliber (e.g., playing at the same level), I wouldn’t object. If a lower-caliber team employs it as a “David strategy”, so be it. I’d probably object to a higher-caliber team doing it to a lower-caliber team (as in, an FBS team doing this against a DII team).Report

    • Will Truman in reply to Kazzy says:

      I wanted to address this line of thought, as it had occurred to me, but couldn’t quite square having the same intuitive sense as you on the issue with the likelihood that the opposing team was given a lesson about what the rulebook says constitutes a snap and live play.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Will Truman says:

        True, but having umpired youth baseball, I will say that things happen in the course of the game that mirror live action (and, ruled properly, would qualify as such) but for one reason or another are treated differently. As you note, safety is a primary concern with youth athletes. If the defense is taught to “go live” any time the ball is snapped and did so in that scenario, they would have killed the OL. Were the QB/C have been responding to an honest issue with the ball and inadvertently live snapped it in such a way that cried “Ball problem!” and not “Play ball!”, I think we’d want the defenders to err on the side of safety.

        This wasn’t misdirection. The QB lied. What if instead of lying about the ball he lied about an injury. Suppose he came up and screamed in agony and started limping to the sideline… would we want the defense to think, “PLAY TO THE WHISTLE!” and destroy him on the off-chance he was faking?Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Will Truman says:

        Not to go all Gregg Easterbrook, but such plays strike me as being far more about the coaches showing just how clever they are than anything else.

        “Congrats, coach. You outsmarted a bunch of 13-year-olds.”Report

  3. J@m3z Aitch says:

    There have been at least a couple Dead Ball Trick plays in Texas.

    More proof for my claims about Texas. 😉Report

  4. Kolohe says:

    I’m of the same mind as one of the background voices in the video. I can’t believe this still works in this age of ubiquitous interwebz videos.

    Also, from a safety point of view, I think the fake kneel down – which was attempted at some college last year I believe – is now illegal at all levels; that is, the player (QB) will be called down and the play whistled dead.Report

  5. trizzlor says:

    Agreed, I’ve always been curious how many players who really had a bad ball have gotten brutally sacked because of this play. For every successful trick video there’s another that looks like it ends in a concussion.Report

  6. Tod Kelly says:

    I know I should hate this play because it leads to possible concussions for future players, but I just can’t help myself.

    I hate this play because it’s so bush league. I don’t even know who this team’s coach is, I already don’t like him for being an a-hole.Report

  7. Michael Cain says:

    Certainly I’d be good with a rule that said, in effect, that an intentional attempt to simulate a dead-ball situation as part of a live-ball play are unsportsmanlike conduct, 15-yard penalty, at all levels.

    There was a play in the NFL sometime in the last couple of weeks near the end of the game. The trailing team had the ball, completed a pass to the one yard line, came rushing up to the line with the QB doing all of the usual gesturing to indicate he was going to spike the ball for an incomplete pass to stop the clock. When the ball was snapped, he instead stepped forward holding it out over the center far enough to break the plane and score the winning touchdown. At the time, it seemed to me an unfair way to take advantage of the protection NFL quarterbacks are given these days. If a QB went through exactly the same thing and a charging linebacker leaped over the line to smack the QB who had just spiked the ball, it would almost certainly be a roughing call.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Michael Cain says:


      I believe you are referring to Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions versus the Cowboys. As I understand the play, he initially did intend to spike it but upon seeing the Cowboys standing around, took the leap.

      You might not know, but coach Greg Schiano of the Bucs drew the ire of other coaches because he did rush end-of-game kneel downs, (falsely) claiming that his Rutgers squad once forced a fumble in just that situation. The plays got him plenty of criticism and led to some player pushing-and-shoving, but no penalties… even though Eli Manning got knocked down (harmlessly) on one of them.

      Spike plays… which is what Stafford was feigning… might have different rules.

      Personally, I have no issue with what Stafford did, but I didn’t think about it from the angle you offered. I’d rather see us pull back the QB-protection rules that allow what I thought was a legitimate form of trickery. Dan Marino did a similar thing to the Jets years ago, signaling for a spike and then throwing a TD.

      However, I think your broader rule has merit. What happened in that high school video should be penalized, not celebrated. I think one of the reasons you don’t see that in the pros is it would never work. Pro lineman often watch the ball: it moves, they move. No whistle? They keep moving. They’re trained to do this. They’re adults who have committed their lives to being the best at their sport and being first off the line is part of that. In high school? That’s not the case. As I said above, this play exploited the child-like nature of child athletes. That coach should be ashamed.Report

    • Kolohe in reply to Michael Cain says:

      It was Matt Stafford, and I disagree, that play was both perfectly ethical and completely brilliant – as well as hella ballsy. (and not just because it was against the Cowboys) (but it helps)

      A fake spike is a different thing than a fake kneel down; it’s just like any other pass pump fake. Furthermore, on that specific play, Stafford never faked spiking the ball – he just faked the ostensible play call.

      And there is never any excuse for the defense to not be ready after the ball is set by the zebras. Even in a victory formation, the defense is expected to attack the line (and the offense is expected to block) because on any play, there is a potential for a bad snap and a fumble.

      If Dallas would have properly hustled and had been properly set on that play, Stafford would have been stuffed (and the game would have been over – iirc the Lions were out of time outs)Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kolohe says:


        But I think @michael-cain ‘s point is that if Dallas thought Stafford *might* try a sneak and hurdled the line, landing on Stafford after he spiked the ball, they’re going to get flagged. In that scenario, it’d be largely irrelevant as it would only move the ball a foot or so forward. But the disparity in the rules between the O and D does make such situations unfair.

        Similarly, Mathias Kiwianuka of the Giants got into hot water a few years back. One week, he wrapped up a QB in possession of the ball but couldn’t see him. By the time he brought him down, he had thrown the ball and got flagged for a late hit. A week or two later, he had Vince Young wrapped up and was driving him backward. After a few seconds, he let go, not wanting to repeat his mistake. But Young still had the ball, was never whistled dead, and either threw or ran for a first down. The rules as constructed and enforced sometimes put defenders in a damned-if-do, damned-if-don’t situation.

        I put the blame on the NFL, not on Stafford.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Kolohe says:

        But d-linemen don’t do that anyway on 4th and inches where the expected play *is* a qb draw. Launching yourself as a missile gets a penalty called on you these days as it is (ask Brandon Merriweather, if you can get a hold of him between suspensions), but even at that, it’s not good defense. It’s too easily countered with anyone with the slightest modicum of shake n’ bake in the their game (which is most everyone, at the NFL level)Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kolohe says:

        But it wasn’t 4th and inches.

        What I mean is this: Stafford comes to the line. The Cowboys D thinks there is a 50% chance he spikes and a 50% chance he runs. If it’s the former, they risk drawing a penalty if they rush him. If it is the latter, they can make a game-winning play. This is going to happen in less than a second. They likely have to decide pre-snap what they’re going to do: rush the snap or just stand up. If they guess wrong, they’re seriously screwed. Meanwhile, if Stafford guesses wrong, he isn’t necessarily screwed. If he spikes when he should have run, he still has a play. If he runs when he should have spiked, he probably loses but might still inch in. That seems unfair. If it was legal to rush a spiking-QB, I’d remove my objection.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Kolohe says:

        I’ll pay closer attention next time, but I don’t think the defense ‘just stands up’, they still scrum a bit with the o-line until the whistle.

        In any case, you’re always allowed to play to the whistle. Right?Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kolohe says:

        They may scrum, but they don’t rush like it’s a 4th-and-1 run.

        You may play to the whistle unless the QB is involved. The NFL has said as much: they recently made a statement that sideline plays in which the QB is not yet out of bounds but are about to be will be considered out of bounds and all hits will be penalized, a protection which does not extend to other players.

        That’s my issue: the special rules for QBs puts defenders in a no-win situation. I don’t blame QBs for exploiting them. I blame the league for implementing them. It disrupts the competitive balance.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kolohe says:

        Jump ahead to 2 minutes. That looks more or less like what most teams do on an obvious spike-play. If they go full-board into the O-line and hit the QB during or after the spike, I’m relatively certain they’d be flagged.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Kolohe says:

        Looking at it again, Stafford barely made that play. He only made it because the (middle?) linebacker was out of position. At about 1:00, during another spike play, the defense doesn’t just get up, they play through, but stop almost immediately as the ball is actually spiked.

        Like I said, it’s poor form (but a frequent enough occurrence) to not be ready to play at the snap of the ball, because it can always be fumbled.

        (And Cowboy Tears!)Report

      • Michael Cain in reply to Kolohe says:

        I would agree with you except that the officials treat it as a special play and give the offense a “pass” on some of the usual details if it is spiked. O-linemen block forward, but you never see a call for ineligible receiver downfield. QBs have to cut the forward pass part of it close; if they threw it forward clearly at that distance, they’re likely to hit an o-lineman and should get a penalty for an illegal receiver touching the ball. You fairly often see spikes that are not a forward pass, but the officials blow the whistle instantly on what is technically a fumble. Unlike any other situation, where the officials are taught to not blow the whistle prematurely, give the defense a chance at recovery, and then sort it out on replay later.

        Either treat it like a normal play every time, or let the QB signal that it’s a special play (eg, it’s only a fumble if they bobble the snap). Don’t give Stafford credit for advancing the ball in a situation where he could have spiked it and gotten special treatment.Report

      • Fish in reply to Kolohe says:

        I was of the same mind, Michael. I have always thought that the spike should be intentional grounding and I had written a reply in support of my position, and then I went and read the rule. The spike is a “special circumstance” in which the QB is allowed to spike the ball without penalty as long as he takes the snap and, in one continuous motion, drives the ball into the ground at his feet. Any delay in this motion should result ina penalty. I think it’s all handwaving on the part of the NFL because if the rules were enforced in this instance, it would kill the two-minute drill.Report

    • I have less of an issue with this at the NFL than at lower levels of play, for the reason described in the OP: the NFL is not a place of education. It is a showcase of the best the game can be. You need to have skills, including knowing when the ball is snapped and when it’s downed, before you get in. In high school, such plays are much more questionable.Report

  8. So I really know put-near nothing about football. But watching that video, it looks like unadulterated dishonesty, a brief triumph of sneakiness and chicanery over skill. I guess it’s not technically cheating, but you sure could have fooled me.

    But then, I know put-near nothing about football.Report

  9. Slade the Leveller says:

    As a football official of 22 seasons I can tell you this will always be an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in high school football. This type of play is directly addressed in the rules casebook that every football official gets. Ordinary trickery is fine (just look at the damage a good option QB can do to a defense), but leading the defense to believe there is a problem and that no play is imminent will earn you a 15 yard longer journey to a first down.Report

    • Good. At this level, “unsportsmanlike conduct” describes this exactly.Report

      • Slade the Leveller in reply to Burt Likko says:

        In fact, in games that my crew officiates a play like this would never get run. In pregame conferences with head coaches we always ask if his team will run any unusual plays. If he describes something like this we’ll tell him not to, as it will result in a penalty.

        Remember the A-11 offense? This has been the only successful trick play offense that I’ve seen, but the rules loophole that allowed it has since been closed, at least in high school.Report

  10. Brandon Berg says:

    I had the same thought. If this catches on, the obvious defense is to go after whoever has the ball until the end of the play has been clearly signaled. Which is, of course, dangerous for the guy who’s making a good-faith attempt to halt the play because of something like this.Report