On Tuesday, the NFL broke some major news at the Annual Meeting in Phoenix, revealing that a vote had passed to include pass interference in replay review for the 2019 season.
This became a huge talking point following the Saints' loss to the Rams in the NFC Championship, where a blatant example of defensive pass interference was missed in the closing minutes of the game.
Change has come, which is what the masses were clamoring for. But as the NFL readily admits, this isn't yet a perfect solution. Here's a look at some of the questions/concerns regarding the expansion of replay.
Is this an overreaction to one play, albeit a hugely important one?
It certainly seems like it, but here’s another way to look at it: That play in the NFC Championship was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
The competition committee has fielded proposals for years asking for expansion of the replay rule. Four years ago, the Lions were up in arms when a pass interference flag against the Cowboys was picked up to end a crucial fourth-down drive on the teams’ playoff matchup. There’s seemingly something like that along those lines every year. This year, the committee finally stepped in.
Doesn’t PI occur on almost every play by the letter of the law?
That is the most fascinating aspect of this rule change. When a red flag flies to challenge a non-call, will game officials be obligated to assess a penalty if the replay technically reveals pass interference – even if it’s a degree of interference that gets waived off 98 percent of the time? That’s a crucial unanswered question. We're talking about judgement calls here, which is going to lead to a lot of debate.
What about Hail Marys?
Along the same lines, nearly every Hail Mary attempt prompts a television analyst to chime in that there’s pass interference on every jump ball desperately lofted into the end zone – even though it’s never called. The one thing about a Hail Mary is that it comes in the final seconds of the game when it’s up to the discretion of game officials as to whether a play is reviewed. They in theory could opt to turn a blind eye to Hail Mary situations.
Will this actually apply to offensive PI as well?
A lot of defensive players assume this to be another rule change that will favor the offense, and that may be true because most flags thrown (or discussions of flags not thrown) revolve around penalizing the defense. But that doesn’t mean any bigger proportion of plays reviewed will be for defensive pass interference. And while it feels like an overwhelming majority of PI calls ding the defense, would you believe that over the past three seasons, nearly 27 percent of the enforced PI calls have been against the offense? That’s a larger number than most would have guessed.
Will it slow the game down?
Speaking of official reviews, have you watched college basketball lately? Referees are allowed to use replay review in the final two minutes, and sometimes they seem paralyzed to trust themselves on anything, opting to review things they have no business reviewing. Obviously a lot of passes are thrown in the final two minutes of close NFL games, and most NFL games are close. So how much the game will be slowed down will depend on how often game officials go to the monitor to check for interference.
Coaches could slow it as well – maybe even just for the sake of slowing it down. There’s 2:15 left in the game and you still have a challenge flag. Why not throw it on pretty much any pass play?