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Early in the fourth quarter of last night’s game between the Commanders and Eagles, Philadelphia defensive back C.J.Gardner-Johnson drew a foul for applying a sideline hit to Washington receiver Curtis Samuel.

It appeared to be a penalty for a late hit. Referee Alex Kemp characterized it simply as a “personal foul.”

ESPN analyst Troy Aikman asked ESPN officiating analyst, and former NFL referee, John Parry about the call.

“Now, John, this was a bad call, am I right?” Aikman said.

“Yeah, he’s in bounds when that contact is initiated,” Parry replied.

Later, they revisited the foul. The focus continued to be whether Johnson hit Samuel late.

Here’s what Parry missed. It was a foul not for a late hit but for lowering the helmet and making forcible contact with an opponent. The NFL has confirmed to PFT that this was the reason for the foul.

In order to reduce confusion and/or tinfoil-hat suspicions that the fix is in, the officials needs to be more specific in situations like that; “personal foul” is too broad. The broadcast partners also need to know the rules well enough to realize what the call is, even if the officials don’t specify the violation.

The rule against lowering the helmet and making forcible contact continues to be sporadically enforced during games. Players routinely are fined for lowering the helmet and making forcible contact, even though flags aren’t thrown as often as they should be.

This year, the rule was changed to replace “initiate” with “forcible” in order to make it harder for players who are fined to prevail via an appeal that focuses on the meaning of “initiate.”

On Monday night, Johnson was flagged. He likely will be fined. It’s a rule that remains impractical and inconsistent with the basic nature of football. But this is one specific provision where the amalgamation of P.R., health/safety, and liability has resulted in a rule that makes it even harder for football players to play football.

And, given the inconsistent application of the rule, it often makes it harder for those who broadcast and watch the game to understand exactly what’s going on.

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