Hurried mechanics increase the danger of officials making a mistake
The two-minute offense has been in effect since the invention of the scoreboard clock. The no-huddle offense became in vogue 25-years ago. Both strategies are here to stay and offenses are getting plays off at an even faster pace. With increased pre-snap duties, the officials will have to adapt themselves to keep up with the frantic speed.
The casual observer may think the officials only spot the ball, make sure the down box is correct, count players, and wait until the next snap. Not so. After the play is dead the referee, after making sure there is no foul, determines the next down, makes sure the ball is properly spotted, monitors offensive substitutes and makes sure the offense doesn’t break the huddle with 12 players, counts offensive players, announces if any players report eligible, finds his key, and monitors the quarterback for attempting to draw the defense offside. The umpire counts players, spots the ball, notes the correct position of the ball between the hashes, checks the down, notes the eligible receivers, checks the formation, picks up his key, and watches for false starts. The head linesman assists the referee in determining if the line to gain is reached, beckons the down box to move to the new spot and announces the next down, beckons the chains to move on a first down, monitors substitutions, counts offensive players, notes eligible receivers, checks the offense for proper formation, answers any questions the head coach has, attempts to placate an irate coach, clears the sideline, and watches for defensive offside or a false start. The line judge has the same duties as the head linesman except he has no chain responsibility. He is responsible for the back-up down box on his side. The deep officials are responsible for monitoring substitutions, counting defense players, and identifying their key. The back judge is also responsible for the play-clock and is responsible to make sure it is set properly. All officials are responsible to make sure that the game clock is correct and running properly.
No matter how you cut it, the officials have a lot of precise pre-snap duties to carry out before the next snap and if any official fails to properly complete their pre-snap checklist, the results can be an officiating disaster. It takes about 30-seconds between snaps during a normal-pace offense. When the offense is in hurry-up, it takes about 15-seconds between snaps. The officials have to run through their checklist as fast as they can, and make sure any official-to-official communication is done before the next snap. The breakdown in the Giants-Redskins game came when the referee and the head linesman gave or received mixed signals, the pre-snap mechanics got off-track, and the play derailed from an officiating standpoint.
Officiating at times has been described as 58-minutes of boredom and two minutes of sheer terror. The fear of failure during the two-minute offense strikes terror into officials at all levels. Officials must have intense concentration, clear communication, instant rules recall, and the ability to watch multiple situations to properly officiate the frantic seconds before the end of each half. It is neither easy or fun, but it is a vital skill one must have in order to be a good football official.