The NFL’s decision to focus only on “clear and obvious” fouls apparently doesn’t extend to neutral zone infractions.
The neutral zone is defined as, basically, the length of the football. Defenders can’t line up with their hands between the front and back of the ball.
Well, they can; the question is whether they’ll be caught when they do it.
On several occasions during Pittsburgh’s Week One win over the Giants, it appeared that linebacker T.J. Watt was lined up dangerously close to, if not smack dab in the middle of, the neutral zone. On two separate plays during crunch time of Sunday’s Jaguars-Titans game, Tennessee defensive end Jadeveon Clowney lined up clearly and obviously in the neutral zone.
The first instance came on a third and nine, with the game tied at 30. Clowney hurried Jacksonville quarterback Gardner Minshew, who threw an incompletion that forced a punt.
Then, after Tennessee took a 33-30 lead and with the Jaguars trying to get in position to force overtime (or in theory to win the game in regulation with a touchdown), Clowney lined up even farther beyond the point of the ball on a second and one play from the Jacksonville 45. Although he didn’t affect the play, a penalty would have wiped out a game-clinching interception, giving the Jaguars five yards and a first down.
If you have access to the NFL’s excellent Gamepass feature, go see it for yourself. The first one seems clear; the second one seems beyond obvious. And if fouls like this aren’t going to be called, then every edge rusher needs to take full advantage of the extra few inches that come from lining up in the neutral zone.