From the start, the Green Bay Packers' decision to line up for a 58-yard field goal attempt last Sunday at Ford Field didn't make sense. Place-kicker Mason Crosby had already missed from 50 yards (twice) and 38 yards, and another miss would have given the Detroit Lions the ball near midfield in a game they already led 17-14.
The Lions seemed suspicious, first calling a timeout and then stationing returner Stefan Logan on the field, presumably to field either a short kick or a quick kick. You know what happened next. Tight end Tom Crabtree mimicked the same movement he used to score on a fake field goal in Week 2 against the Chicago Bears, popping out of his stance before the snap and stopping behind long-snapper Brett Goode as if to take a pitch from holder Tim Masthay.
Crabtree then returned to his spot, but not before referee Ron Winter called him for a false start. The penalty forced the Packers to punt, as they probably should have done in the first place, but also raised two questions:
What was the difference between what Crabtree did and when an offensive player goes in presnap motion?
What exactly were the Packers trying to accomplish?
On the first point, the NFL recently drew a more defined distinction between legal movement before the snap and movement clearly designed to draw opponents offside. Here is how the rule book instructs officials to make that distinction, from Rule 1, Section 4, Article 2:
"It is a False Start if the ball has been placed ready for play, and, prior to the snap, an offensive player who has assumed a set position charges or moves in such a way as to simulate the start of a play, or if an offensive player who is in motion makes a sudden movement toward the line of scrimmage. Any quick abrupt movement by a single offensive player, or by several offensive players in unison, which simulates the start of the snap, is a false start."
Intuitively, I think this should make sense to anyone who saw the play. Crabtree didn't back off the line, turn and jog as players normally do when they go in motion. He moved "abruptly" as if the snap had already occurred and then extended his hands to catch a pitch. In essence, the Packers designed an illegal play.
I have heard of teams checking with officials before games on the legality of a potential play, but the officials' response on those occasions are not binding. They still need to see the play occur in real time. So even if the Packers checked with Winter pregame, they wouldn't have a recourse.
As for the second question, Crosby said after the game that the play was initially intended to draw the Lions offside. If they remained in place, Crosby said, "the intention was to kick it" when Crabtree got back in position. Overall, it's safe to say the play wasn't the highlight of the Packers' otherwise winning effort in Detroit.
On to our Penalty Tracker: