What’s going on with officiating in the NFL?
Blaming officials is a common trend for any losing team, but when an entire fan base is crying out after a bad call, then something really is wrong.
During the first quarter of the Texans vs Ravens game this past Sunday (17 November), officials on the field failed to call a pass interference against cornerback Marlon Humphrey.
Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, trying to make a play in the end zone, attempted to catch a deep ball from quarterback Deshaun Watson; Humphrey then appears to grab Hopkins, pulling him away from the ball, which was almost in his hands.
Houston head coach Bill O'Brien challenged for defensive pass interference, which was then reviewed and turned down by Al Riverion, Senior VP of Officiating for the NFL, meaning the non-call on the field stood.
What does the rule say?
Simply put, the new rule on pass interference allows coaches to challenge pass interference and non-calls up until the two minute warning in both halves.
For overtime and the final two minutes of the half, replay officials are responsible for the review of pass interference, the same system used for all other reviewable plays.
To count as pass interference a player must “significantly hinder” an opponent being able to make a play on the ball.
For a decision on the field to be overturned, there must be “clear and obvious visual evidence”, the same standard held for all reviews.
A Brief History
The new rule for challenging pass interference was only approved in June of this year; this followed lengthy debates between NFL owners and the league. It covers the 2019 season, after which, the 32 owners will decide whether they would like to extend, remove or eliminate it for 2020.
The creation of the rule followed heavy backlash over the 2019 NFC Championship game between the LA Rams and New Orleans Saints in which several blatant pass inferences were non-called.
The Rams went on to win that game 26-23 in overtime and proceeded to the Superbowl.
Stop wasting your challenges
As of week 11, successful coaches’ challenges for pass interference stood at just a measly 6-for-58.
This is not the first time O’Brien has had a non-call challenge rejected by the league, in week 6 against the Chiefs, the Houston head coach challenged a non-call of pass interference against tight end Travis Kelce, this was also rejected after the review.
"I have no idea what pass interference is anymore. No idea." - Bill O’Brien
Later that day in a separate game, the Eagles challenged a non-call on another blatant pass interference, that call was overturned, leaving teams and coaches even more in the dark when it comes to challenges.
With every unsuccessful challenge it becomes more evident the league has no concrete guidelines on when to overturn one. Simply opting to instate the rule to avoid any more PR nightmares, like those following the Rams vs Saints game, with no real structure in place to support it.
Should a coach risk wasting a challenge that is almost certainly going to be rejected or do teams stick to their guns, challenging plays and calls they believe to be erroneous until the league sets a precedent.
Honestly, at this point it seems that the best course of action is to ignore pass interference calls, it has been made clear by the NFL they have no intention of this rule sticking around. Whether this has been accidental due to a lack of planning, or more likely a deliberate ploy by the league to scupper the rule, every challenge seems to be a wasted one.
At this rate it seems just as quickly as the owners brought this rule in, they will be tearing it down come the offseason.
Was this the plan all along from the NFL, the same league who dragged their heels on ever putting pen to paper when it came to pass interference challenges.