The NFL worked furiously this offseason to emasculate New England's aggressive defensive backs. The castration effort was led with surgical intensity by two conference opponents: Indy and Tennessee.
What do these two teams have in common? The Cold, Hard Football Facts show that the Colts and Titans are dominant against the rest of the league, but helpless against the Patriots. In fact, since the start of the 2003 season, the Colts and Titans are a combined 28-6 (.823) against the rest of the league, but 0-5 against the Patriots. (That would be .000 for those of you keeping score.)
Instead of pulling their chinstraps a little tighter, both organizations donned pink chiffon skirts and lobbied the NFL for tougher penalty calling on defensive backs.
Jeff Fisher admitted so much this week on NFL Total Access. He said the decision by the Titans to lobby the NFL was "based on tapes we studied at length this off season." (Note to Jeff: if you spent more time looking at tapes to break down the tendencies of your opponents, and less time whining, you might be better positioned to win a Super Bowl.) The Colts organization also sent reams of film to NFL offices, demanding tougher enforcement of defensive penalties. (Hey, Colts: see "Note to Jeff" above.)
In particular, both teams wanted NFL referees to aggressively enforce what's known informally as the "five-yard chuck rule." Naturally, the intent was to restrict teams that play more aggressive brands of defense. (Note to NFL: Defenses are supposed to be aggressive. Refs are not.)
The NFL responded in favor of the forces of frill and fluff, and agreed to restrict aggressive play by defensive backs. The proof was in the sissy pie on Week One.
Fifteen defensive holding penalties were called throughout the NFL in Week One. By comparison, just five defensive holding penalties were called in Week One of the 2003 season.
Naturally, the Patriots were primary victims during their 27-24 victory over Indianapolis. Of the 15 defensive holding penalties called this weekend among all 32 NFL teams in Week One, two were called on the Patriots. The Colts were also called twice for defensive holding. In other words, more than 25 percent of all defensive holding penalties called in Week One were called in the New England-Indy game.
However, New England's defensive backs were flagged for a total of five penalties against the Colts: pass interference, illegal use of hands, encroachment, holding, and illegal contact. Linebacker Mike Vrabel, meanwhile, was called for an additional defensive holding penalty during an Indy pass play. Two of the six penalties came on a key 4th quarter drive, resulted in automatic first downs, and led directly to an Indianapolis touchdown.
Indy defensive backs, meanwhile, were whistled for just one penalty the entire game. It came on a 20-yard Tom Brady-to-David Givens completion and was declined by New England. (Colts linebacker David Thornton was also penalized for defensive holding.)
Replays on at least two calls shows that there was virtually no contact between the New England defender and the Indy receiver. But yellow flags were thrown just the same. Of course, the Patriots were able to overcome this rash of calls on its defense, even when facing the NFL's best offensive team.
But get used to it. The NFL is committed to parity, and the Cold, Hard Football Facts won't be surprised if they see yellow flags litter New England's defensive backfield all season long.