The most iconic play of the Super Bowl battle between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots is also the most controversial.
The NFL rulebook dictates that an offense must have seven players on the line of scrimmage to avoid an illegal formation penalty. It appears that on the trick play dubbed “Philly special” the Eagles had only six. Alshon Jeffrey, at the top of the screen in this image, appears to be off the line.
The fourth down trick play TS to Nick Foles was an illegal formation, should have been called back…extended WR to the top of the screen is off the ball (needs to be on the line with just the OT on inside him). #SB52 #Eagles #Patriots pic.twitter.com/tdX7hIpiGu
— Matt Chatham (@chatham58) February 5, 2018
According to Pro Football Talk, a league source indicated the NFL “views it as a judgment call, not a call that was clearly right or clearly wrong.”
The line judge either determined Jeffrey was close enough to the line, or missed the call.
According to Mike Peireira, the former vice president of NFL officiating, it’s the latter.
“I know the league came out and said that it’s a judgment call, which it is.” Pereira told Talk of Fame. “The down judge, who was the one that (the play) was on his side of the field … they felt that it was his judgment, and he (receiver Alshon Jeffrey) was close enough. Well, he wasn’t. They lined up wrong.
“Not only that, it’s a trick play. And if you’re going to run a trick-type play, then you have to be lined up properly. You could either have six men on the line, or you could have an ineligible number lined up at the end of the line, which was the case. I know what the league has said, but they would have been a lot more comfortable if they would have called an illegal formation.”
Then Pereira seemed to contradict his argument, claiming that officials often give a receiver about a yard and a half of leeway on the line of scrimmage.
“We always use a yard (within the line of scrimmage), maybe a yard and a half. But that’s two. And even a little bit beyond two. It’s kind of one of those that has no effect on the play. I get it. But they didn’t line up properly. And it really should’ve been called.”
As you can see in the picture above, the ball is placed about halfway between the one- and two-yard lines. Jeffrey’s foot is closer to the end zone than the three-yard line is, meaning that, unless the grounds crew was wasted when they drew the lines, the receiver is about a yard and a half away from the line of scrimmage.