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Seahawks-Rams game showed flaws in penalty assessment

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What happens when two young, brutally physical division opponents who are among the league leaders in penalties meet in a game overseen by one of the most maligned officiating crews in the NFL?

You get a herky-jerky game that borders on pure chaos at times, and the league gets another reason to review some of its rules and officiating procedures.

The Seahawks and Rams combined for 19 penalties on Sunday -- the second most in a Seattle game this season -- and finished as the two most penalized teams in the league.

For just the fourth time this season, the Seahawks had fewer flags than the opponent -- thanks to a whole lot of unsportsmanlike behavior by the Rams.

Jeff Fisher's rambunctious club was flagged 19 times, although just 12 of the penalties were accepted due to a number of offsetting and/or multiple-foul situations.

Jeff Triplette's crew, which has been the most controversial officiating squad in a season full of too many bad calls, actually handled the game fairly well despite throwing 29 flags and assessing 19 of them.

Eight of the 29 flags Triplette's gang threw came on two plays, and the assessment of those penalties raised questions about how the league administers on-field punishment.

On a Seahawks punt at the end of the first quarter, Triplette's squad threw four flags. The Rams were called for running into the kicker, unnecessary roughness and holding. But the fourth flag was against the Seahawks for unsportsmanlike conduct, and that one foul negated all of the Rams' penalties.

This was the worst example of what has long been an inequitable enforcement rule: any fouls on both teams offset and the down is replayed. It is bad enough that a 5-yard penalty can negate a 15-yarder, but to have one penalty negate three seems preposterous.

The league should have fixed this rule a long time ago, and the NFL really needs to examine penalty assessment. Two things should be done:

1) In the case of fouls by each team, simply use basic math and assess a net penalty. So a 10-yard holding penalty on the offense would be assessed from the spot of the foul and the defensive penalty would be added back. The net yardage would dictate the down.

2) In the case of multiple penalties by one team vs. one penalty by the other club, fouls of equal value would cancel out and the team with the most fouls would be punished for the worst remaining offense. So in the case of the four flags in this game, the 15-yarders on each side would have negated each other and the Rams would have been assessed the 10-yard hold in favor of the 5-yard running-into-the-kicker call.

The Rams really got out of control late in the third quarter, as defenders Alec Ogletree and Kendall Langford each incurred two personal fouls and Langford was unfairly ejected when an official walked into his hand as he gestured wildly while complaining to Triplette.

By the letter of the rule, Langford was thrown out for touching an official. But the official walked right into him, and there is no way he should have been booted. He then drew another flag for throwing a tantrum after learning he had been ejected. (His anger might have been rooted in the fact that he needed one more sack to achieve a $300,000 bonus for the season, per St. Louis-based reporter Howard Balzer.)

The bigger issue was the fact that the penalties didn't cost the Rams much yardage because the Seahawks were already at the St. Louis 22-yard line when the fouls occurred. So instead of netting 60 yards off the Rams' poor sportsmanship, they got just 21 yards.

After the Hawks scored, the Rams got two more unsportsmanlike conduct flags on the ensuing kickoff. But instead of 30 yards, they cost them just 13 because the Rams were only at the 18.

Basically, the Rams paid just 34 yards for 90 yards in penalties. It's an inequity in the system, to be sure, but short of removing the half-the-distance rule there is not much to be done about it.

Some think the NFL should use a "bank" system, in which penalty yardage is tallied and netted out against future penalties in the game. But that would seem a bit too convoluted -- keeping a penalty ledger that is constantly being adjusted.

The league could get rid of the half-the-distance rule, which seems legitimate when you consider that pass interference is a spot foul. Otherwise, there seems little to do when a team compounds penalties except take whatever yardage and the extra downs it offers an offense.

It is obvious the league needs to re-examine some of the flaws in rules and penalty enforcement, but it remains to be seen whether the competition committee will suddenly think any of the inequities require adjustments.

Besides, in a season that featured too many officiating mistakes, a flag-filled game between the league's two most penalized teams probably won't be worth an official inquiry.

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