Pete Morelli’s crew appeared to break down during a call in Week 4, as side judge Boris Cheek threw a flag for a horse collar tackle, that simply wasn’t there. After a lengthy and sometimes animated discussion with his crew mates, Morelli announced the 15-yard penalty.
First of all, down judge Steve Stelljes (pictured above) and referee Pete Morelli had a better view of the play than Cheek. Stelljes even shook his head “no” when the Saints were asking for a flag. Then Cheek threw his flag.
There was still a chance for the crew to get the call right. Stelljes should have asked Cheek what he saw. After getting Cheek’s explanation, Stelljes should have told Cheek he had a better view of play and Cheek should pick up the flag.
That all may have happened, and judging by the animated conversation, probably did happen.
This is called saving the crew. The NFL expects officials who may have something to contribute to immediately participate to help get the call right. Officials will be roundly criticized by their crew mates and the league office if they sit on their information and the game goes over the cliff.
But, there’s another variable to the saving the crew as it pertains to this call — Cheek needed to back off. Officials won’t question a crew mate’s call unless they are sure they have information to change the call. Cheek needed to listen to Stelljes, Morelli and line judge Jeff Seeman. If they all had information counter to Cheek’s call, and Stelljes had a better angle, Cheek needed to pick up his flag. Now, Stelljes could have been passive about his no-call and Cheek was forceful and adamant. If that’s the case, Stelljes needed to step up and hold his ground. If Stelljes and Cheek both didn’t budge, then Morelli would have stepped in and broken the tie….and had a big talk with his crew after the game.
Whether Cheek was too stubborn to change his call or Stelljes was too passive and didn’t stick to his call, something broke down. Officiating crews need to hash this out in the pregame. Crew members usually tell each other, “If I ask you ‘what did you have’ on a call, that means I have information you need to hear before we go with your call.” Officials need to be assertive, even if that means a rookie questioning the big dog veteran. On the flip side, the official being questioned, even the big dog veteran, needs to lay down some ego and actually listen to the other official.
There seemed to be too much talking and not enough listening on Sunday.