There has been a lot of chatter about the NFL and a couple major rules since Championship weekend. The results put the New England Patriots, and the LA Rams in Super Bowl LIII. Probably the most talked about issue is the Pass Interference rule, or lack thereof. The other, the length and format of Overtime. For the record, I am good with both, but I can see some easy fixes for them as well. Let’s talk.
Let’s start with Pass Interference. If you have watched a handful of games, you have no doubt seen a receiver, and a cornerback fight for the football. Sometimes there will be a cute yellow flag thrown, sometimes not. 90% one or both players will look around to see if the flag is thrown. A good amount of the time, one or both players will complain to an official. This is the current state of the NFL passing game. Like holding, pass interference, (PI for short) can probably be called at a high rate.
PI is a judgment call, simply put, it’s the referee’s discretion to call it or not. Sometimes the other refs will help him out. There has probable been no more egregious call than on Sunday in the Saints/Rams game. With less than 2 minutes left, Drew Brees threw a pass that was broken up, and at full speed it didn’t look too bad. Then the replay comes in, slowing the play down. We clearly saw not only did the defender clearly contact the receiver before the ball got there, he also hit him in the head with his helmet. Problem is, the refs don’t watch the game in slow motion. To me, that is the biggest problem. We live in an age where we have technology, and that technology influences the way we watch sports. Many people are calling for PI to be reviewable. I’m not sure how I feel about that.
I know one thing; either the coaches would burn their challenges in the first quarter, or the game would be a challenge-fest. None of those options are good for the sport. I have a few things that I think can work.
- Full-time officials: This works for both PI, and many other issues. The NFL has the money, and it’s long overdue. They should be trying to put the absolute best product on the field, and that starts and ends with full-time officials.
- Extra officials in the defensive backfield: I would go at least 2 more officials, who only watch out for pass interference. There are too many players out there. You can have anywhere from 2-5 receivers on any given play. That means 5 or more defenders. Put 2 more refs back 20-30 yards. This would also let the other refs focus on other things. The speed of the game kind of demands it.
- Official in the booth: A dedicated official in the booth, watching the game in real time. This is not a replay official, this is someone watching at game speed. They will stay in constant contact with the Referee. He/she will be able to buzz down and maybe tell them to huddle up, or take a look at something reviewable.
- Keep the crew together: They used to do playoffs by crew. There were pluses and minuses to this. I think it’s time to look at going back to it. Perhaps one thing they can do is rotate officials in and out by quarter, or halfway through the season. This would give the officials a chance to work with different refs. Having a crew that worked a full season together has it’s advantages, I believe it outranks the cons.
Then there is the issue of Overtime. I don’t mind how it works currently, but the more I think about it, the more it should be a full quarter. The NFL tweaked the rule a couple years ago, to make it more likely that both teams touch the ball, and that the coin flip is less a factor. Since 2012, the team that wins the coin toss (at the beginning of OT) is about 52% likely to win. That is not a huge advantage. Factor in an elite quarterback such as Tom Brady, or Aaron Rodgers, and those stats are meaningless. However, you do have chances to stop them. Last Sunday, Brady converted 3 straight 3rd and longs (I believe 3rd and 10s) to march his team to a game winning touchdown. The Chiefs had every opportunity to stop them. They didn’t. That is why Tom Brady and the Patriots are going to their 9th Super Bowl since 2001. I think it’s fair, but I have a way to make it even more fair.
Simply: Play a full quarter of football. I know it’s odd. In the regular season they used to do this. It makes sense. A playoff game should not be decided by anything less. Major league baseball, and the National Hockey league both have it that way. I like the Sudden Death rule for the regular season. This year we had a few ties. I would go to Sudden Death after a 5th full quarter. The games have to end sometime.
Lastly, a final tweak I would make is have the booth reviews extended from the final 2 minutes of a game to the final 5 minutes. This would help out the refs, and the coaches would not have to worry about saving an extra time out for a challenge. Provided, they haven’t already blown their 2 allotted challenges.