Commentary

A glaring oversight overhead

Cowboys Stadium's overhanging video scoreboard could provide safety, strategy issues

Originally Published: August 31, 2009
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Dan in Duluth, Minn., sides with Jerry Jones on the Dallas Cowboys' scoreboard controversy.

He notes that Cowboys Stadium's high-definition screen is mounted 90 feet above the field -- five feet above the league specifications for an overhanging structure. Dan supports the idea that the Cowboys mounted the scoreboard with the full understanding that it complied with the approved limits, so it would be unfair of the NFL to ask Cowboys owner Jones to pay considerable money to fix it.

As it turns out, you are right, Dan, but give me a chance to expound on the issue. League commissioner Roger Goodell isn't going to force any change in the scoreboard in 2009. Last week the NFL ruled that the down will be replayed and clock will be reset if a football hits the overhanging video display board. The league can review the issue after the season.

While Jones did more than comply with the league standards, the 85-foot standard really doesn't make any sense. Every visiting punter who has been through there so far has hit the scoreboard, at least in warm-ups.

The overhanging scoreboard produces a safety problem because a replayed down further exposes players to potential injury: Another special-teams play means more high-speed collisions. It's a competitive advantage for the Cowboys because opposing punters who rely on high hang time might not be able to angle their kicks without hitting the scoreboard on certain spots on the field.

In my opinion, the reason the league requirement is 85 feet is that few people considered the potential problems created by punters. Though the Louisiana Superdome has an overhanging scoreboard, it is reportedly mounted much higher than the 90 feet in Jerry's stadium. The current group of punters might be the strongest in league history. Ninety feet is only 30 yards in altitude. It's only natural to think they can get 30 yards into the air on a punt to get the high hang time. It's pretty apparent Jones didn't include a punting consultant when he did environmental impact studies on the scoreboard.

In reality, the height should be somewhere between 100 and 110 feet, but determined after extensive testing by professional kickers.

As the story is told, Texas Stadium -- the Cowboys' old home -- was built with an opening in the middle of the roof so God could look down on his favorite team. The 90-foot gap between the new Cowboys Stadium field and the scoreboard is like a cloud that's blocking logic. If a punter can hit the scoreboard, Jones should move it.

What I'd like to see is a visiting quarterback hit the scoreboard with 30 seconds remaining and no timeouts and see if he can get a dead-ball ruling that is mandated for punts that hit the scoreboard. The quarterback can do this by rolling out of the pocket and firing the ball at the scoreboard. As long as he is outside the pocket and the ball is past the line of scrimmage, there can't be any intentional grounding calls.

In fact, would it not be out of line for a team with no timeouts to just throw to hit the scoreboard after each first down to reset the clock. If the scoreboard costs the Cowboys a chance to win a home game, you'll see how embarrassing the result will be.

Let's go to the mailbag.

From the inbox

Q: Every year the Indianapolis Colts' D is the biggest question mark/concern/weakness. Do you see Jim Caldwell going out and signing a big DT? Tony Dungy always wanted speed but do you see the new regime getting speed everywhere else and getting big in the middle?

From Chris in Muncie, Ind.

A: The Colts have done about as much as they could this offseason to bulk up the interior of the defensive line. The best move was the re-signing of defensive tackle Ed Johnson, whom they cut last season because of some off-the-field problems. Fili Moala and Terrance Taylor are second- and fourth-round choices who should fit into the rotation. They brought back Antonio Johnson from last season. Those are four upgrades for size along the line. That has allowed Keyunta Dawson to move to defensive end. This should improve the run defense. For two years, the league wasn't calling many holding penalties, so light lines like the Colts' were being pushed around.

Q: With all the trade speculation surrounding Tarvaris Jackson, as a Niners fan I find it a little disappointing that we wouldn't even consider a go at him. I know it's only preseason, but he did throw for more than 200 yards the other night, something neither Shaun Hill nor Alex Smith has been able to do thus far. What are your thoughts?

From Writersblock in Newark, N.J.

A: I don't see that as being a help. Jackson is a run-around quarterback, much like Smith. Plus, I'm sure ownership wouldn't let the team confuse the quarterback position even more. Right or wrong, the 49ers want a quarterback like Hill to manage a lower-scoring, run-oriented game. Their search for new quarterback talent will happen after the season. The bind they are in now is because they did try to rush things at quarterback with the selection of Smith. They felt they needed a quarterback so they used that first-rounder on him. He was making progress with Norv Turner and then things fell apart. It takes organizations years to recover from such a move if it doesn't work. The 49ers are recovering as best they can.

Q: What's your take on the San Diego Chargers? Do you think they're poised to go all the way this year? Has your position on L.T. changed since all signs show that he is healthy?

From Mark in Crystal Lake, Ill.

A: I haven't changed my position on the Chargers one bit. They should clinch the AFC West by around Thanksgiving. As long as they are healthy, they should be a big factor in the playoffs. The key for them is not having their star players break down in the postseason and trying to get one of the top two seeds in the playoffs. Offensively, they should be great. LaDainian Tomlinson, Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates are healthy. They are having great camps. Believe it or not, I have concerns about the defense. Coming off his knee surgery, Shawne Merriman isn't going to be Lights Out at the start of the season. The Chargers need to win the time-of-possession battle on offense to keep their defense fresh during the season.

Q: Why does the NFL have a double standard when it comes to the face-mask rule? If a defensive player so much as touches a ball carrier's face mask, it's a well-deserved major penalty. However, a ball carrier can jam his hand right into the face mask of a tackler and be praised for a great straight hand. If the face-mask issue is a safety-related one, it should be consistent for both the offense and defense.

From Robert in Trenton, N.J.

A: Robert, it sounds like you need a spot on the NFL's competition committee. That was a big topic, and the plan is to penalize the offensive player if he goes to the face in the manner you discuss. Safety is a big thing. Sure, the defensive player usually gets the bulk of the calls against him, but the offensive player has to be careful, also. They started making those calls against the offense last season and will do more this year. What the league doesn't want to see is a game in which there are too many flags. You're seeing a lot in the preseason now and it's slowing down the game. They are overdoing the calls in the preseason to make sure players don't make the infractions during the season.

Q: I'm a former Green Bay Packers fan, but am taking a rest. I was wondering, however, if Aaron Rodgers would not have been happier if he had been drafted by the 49ers instead of the Pack?

From Olga in Washington, D.C.

A: Great question. The answer would be yes, although he loves his situation in Green Bay now. Going to San Francisco would have meant a bigger contract and not going through the embarrassment of sitting in New York during the draft and watching his stock drop. It would also have meant playing earlier. Give Rodgers credit. He handled the situation perfectly. It took a lot of time, but he now has the money. He also has the complete support of his team. He's the face of the Packers now. He could have been the same in San Francisco.

Q: The Miami Dolphins are still looking for their No. 1 receiver. They claim that it is Ted Ginn Jr., but they've only thrown to him four times in the first two preseason games. Do the Dolphins have the luxury of trading for a Brandon Marshall or Anquan Boldin? Would they? If so, what would be the pros and cons of said transaction?

From Adam G in Miami

A: I like what they are doing as far as building a good young corps of receivers. Ginn might not be a pure No. 1, but he's a good, solid starter. I like what I see of Patrick Turner and Brian Hartline. Of the rookie receivers so far, Hartline seems to be the most advanced. If they have good rookie seasons, the Dolphins should be set for several years. It might not be the best receiving corps in the AFC East, but it's good enough for what the Dolphins want to do with their offense.

[+] EnlargePaul Krause
Tony Tomsic/Getty ImagesNo one in NFL history has more career interceptions than former Viking Paul Krause.

Q: When talking about all-time [NFL] records that will never be broken: most interceptions [in a career] never seems to make the list. Why is that? To me, this is a record that will never be broken with today's modern offenses. Currently Paul Krause leads the list with 81 career picks. The closest someone has come in recent memory is Rod Woodson who finished third on the career list with 71. Woodson probably would have had to play three more seasons to break the record. The only active NFL player in the top 20 is Darren Sharper with 54 career picks. At age 35, I don't think he will have a shot at the record. So how come this record is never mentioned when talks about the toughest records to break come up?

From Ryland in Gainesville, Fla.

A: You raise a terrific point. It seems as though the only defensive stat anyone cares about is sacks. Interceptions do get overlooked. That's probably because it's so hard for one cornerback or defensive back to stay at the top of those stats each year. It was great to see that Dick LeBeau received the nomination of the Hall of Fame Senior Committee based on his interceptions and his coaching career. Maybe we can figure out a way to pump up those stats in the future.

Q: Why does everyone around the league, and certainly here in the D.C. area, crush Jason Campbell when it's blatantly obvious that his mediocrity is not for lack of talent or his ability to make plays, but rather the organization's inability to have confidence in him? It seems that for some reason Jim Zorn touts this guy's arm and decision-making, but he refuses to call plays that allow him to show off either. Even under Joe Gibbs, Campbell was unable to showcase his ability, and is seemingly asked to simply not lose games rather than win them. Will this change for JC, or is he as good as gone after the season?

From Cory in Hagerstown, Md.

A: Jason is in a tough spot, but he can come out of this big if he takes the Redskins to the playoffs. It's pretty clear ownership doesn't believe he is a franchise quarterback. He was drafted by Joe Gibbs because Gibbs believed he could be a franchise quarterback. Gibbs is gone. I believe Jim Zorn is doing the best he can to get the right plays for Campbell to run. Campbell's accurate as a thrower. He needs to be more consistent with his leadership. But he also must do better in the red zone. The Redskins' offense should average 20 or more points a game. If Campbell does well, he gets a new contract. If he doesn't, the Redskins move on to the next quarterback. In the third preseason game, though, Zorn tried more of a play-action attack, which might suit Campbell better.

Q: What role will Edgerrin James play in Seattle? He said that he wanted more carries last year, so does that mean that he'll be challenging Julius Jones for the starting spot?

From Devin in Lake Stevens

A: The Edge clearly will be a backup, but his signing does upgrade the Seahawks' backfield. T.J. Duckett was great in short yardage and blocking, but he wasn't a back you could trust coming off the bench to gain yards. The running offense will go through Jones. That was made clear to him once they signed James, And James knows that he is the backup, so there won't be the confusion that might have disturbed him last year in Arizona when he lost his starting job. Being on the street as long as he was without a job and not getting a chance to be in training camp will change the attitude of a player. James said the right thing when he signed. He wanted to help a team win. He can do that in Seattle.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer