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Should Derrick Henry’s touchdown have been called back?

I already know YOUR answer, now here’s mine...

In the second quarter of the Monday Night Football tilt between the Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans, Derrick Henry broke through the Buffalo Bills’ defense for a...well, you know the rest if you’re here. The play soon drew the ire of Bills fans thanks to a missed holding call (allegedly). In the days since, additional no-calls have been perceived.

Now the stuff of legends, no fewer than 42 missed calls have been spotted on social media on this play alone. I know what all of YOU think, but here’s my take on if the Derrick Henry [cough cough] 76-yard touchdown [cough cough] should have been called back.

Jordan Poyer

First things first, here’s the original broadcast angle in both regular speed and slow mo. Note: I’m using sliders here, so drag the image left/right to toggle between the regular and slow mo versions.

Pretty clear cut right? Not so fast. Remember from the millions of times I’ve linked this article (it’s why I wrote it in the first place) that grabbing is usually not in and of itself considered “holding.” Usually the refs are looking for a “material restriction” such as twisting, jerking, hooking, or turning that’s caused by the grab.

That’s important because you can usually see some evidence of this in the “victim.” From this angle, the Titan is pretty clearly driving forward and there’s nothing compelling that Poyer is twisted, jerked, hooked, or turned. Let’s check angle two.

The first thing I’d note is that if you’re arguing “outside the frame” then you’re behind the times. I bring it up because I see it a good deal but it’s no longer a part of the offensive holding rule. Blockers are supposed to work toward inside the frame, but in practice lots of contact outside the numbers happens and goes uncalled. It’s all about that material restriction. Here’s a fun quote to change the topic from frames:

If a blocker falls on or pushes down a defender whose momentum is carrying him to the ground, Offensive Holding will not be called unless the blocker prevents the defender from rising from the ground.

If there’s no hook, or twist, or jerk and the blocker is driving forward, the material restriction is harder to argue and there’s a case that it’s Poyer’s own momentum carrying him to the ground.

Poyer Conclusion: I do think that Poyer is being restricted from flowing to his right (our left) and there’s likely a bit of a pull/hook that keeps him from disengaging and contributes to his fall. That said, I don’t think this is egregious in the least. I’d call this one fringe and no matter what the refs did someone’s fans woulda been pissed off.

Taron Johnson

Note: This one doesn’t have a slider, and is only one angle because it’s a lot more clear from the one GIF.

Pretty clear cut right? Not so fast. To start, I don’t think there’s a good argument that this is NOT a material restriction. Taron Johnson is absolutely hooked/pulled and it absolutely creates a material restriction. So why did I say “not so fast?”

Look at the initial frame. Taron Johnson is lined up with Julio Jones in the slot receiver position. Here’s another rules quote, covering an exception to offensive holding. In essence, holding isn’t called:

if the action occurs away from the point of attack and not within close line play;

Close-line play is defined as the boundaries established by the “normal tackle positions” and three yards on either side of the line of scrimmage. The contact is around the three-yard mark but remember what I asked you to note. Julio Jones inherently lines up outside the tackles so this is definitively NOT close-line play.

The other component is that it needs to ALSO be “away from the point of attack.” Based on the usual dimensions of an NFL field, the distance between the numbers and the hash is about 7-8 yards (so more than 20 feet away).

Johnson Conclusion: I think this is a good no-call. There’s zero doubt they’re outside of close-line play. I know the camera angle doesn’t make it seem like it, but they’re pretty far away from Henry’s point of attack.

Tre’Davious White

Before we do the discussion, let’s get both angles out of the way. Here’s the replay angle to go with the broadcast above.

Alright, let’s apply what we’ve covered so far to this play.

  • Clear evidence of a tug/pull/jerk
  • Action creates material restriction to Tre’Davious White’s path
  • This DID occur very far away from close-line play, but...
  • It does seem White was pretty near the point of attack

White Conclusion: I do think this one meets the criteria for offensive holding. Personally I think White is close enough to the point of attack where the exception shouldn’t apply. I also think the shove after the tug would qualify for an illegal block in the back as well, but I’m nearing 1,000 words as it is so just trust me on the rules on that.

Overall Conclusion

I’m on the refs side when it comes to Taron Johnson. I see their viewpoint on Jordan Poyer and the no-call doesn’t bother me. The holding (or illegal block in the back) should have been called for the tug and shove on Tre’Davious White. White seems to agree as you can see him calling for a flag at the end of the second angle.

For those curious about it, the infraction occurs at around the Titans’ 40-yard line. That’s in advance of the line of scrimmage but before the dead ball spot (the end zone). Trust me again on the rules, but that means enforcement is at the spot of the foul for ten yards. That would have called the run back to the Titans’ 30. The original line of scrimmage was the 24. In other words, a 76-yard touchdown run would have been a much less impressive six-yard gain. For my penalty nerds out there (love you all) that’s 14.0 Harm that should have been on the books.

So yeah, it’s okay to be a little upset about the no-call, I’d just recommend focusing on the single no-call.