In October, we relayed an interesting discovery from Smart Football that revealed a shady yet perfectly legal tactic reaped from Buddy Ryan’s old Houston playbook. Essentially, the “Polish Goalline” called for the defense to bring extra men on the field while leading with less than 15 seconds on the clock. The goal? To take time off the clock at the expense of a five-yard penalty.
The strategy was magnified in Super Bowl XLVI, when Tom Coughlin appeared to accidentally put a longer form variation of the play into use. With a four-point lead, 17 seconds left and the Patriots driving at around mid field, the Giants sent 12 men out. With that advantage, they successfully defended against a Hail Mary, losing only five yards due to the penalty while taking eight seconds off the clock.
That makes sense, because offenses still want the free play that is presented to them whenever defenses take penalties that don’t require an immediate stoppage. The NFL would have to institute a very specific rule that changes a too-many-men penalty to one that would require officials to blow the play dead in, say, the final minute of a game. And defensive players technically have until the snap to get off the field, so this could penalize defenses that simply miscalculated and are attempting to readjust before the play officially begins — something they have the full ability to do throughout the game.
There are several rules that only apply at certain points of games, so that’s not completely far-fetched. But those opposed to a tweak could also argue that the offense has full capability to stop the clock themselves by spiking the ball immediately, gaining five yards without losing any time off the clock.
It’s sort of like the rules regarding freezing kickers. It’s tough to take away a team’s ability to call timeout at any point as long as they have one to use, and it’s up to the players to be mentally tough and physically competent enough to withstand a last-second timeout on a field goal attempt.
It’s tough to immediately penalize a team for having 12 or more men on the field, especially if it’s impossible to know if they’re being malicious or just making a careless mistake. And it’s arguably up to the offensive players to have the awareness to recognize an extra man and kill the play.