Although it was only supposed to be a one-year trial, it is time for the NFL to scrap the replay process for the pass interference rule and strip coaches and the replay officials of the ability to review plays for potential penalties. The Green Bay Packers and their fans would probably agree with this and have every right to be angry with the outcome of the Week 4 game on Thursday night against the Eagles.
In the game, there were three pass interference reviews with only one resulting in a flag pick-up (the first of the season) and the other two upholding no-call pass interference on the field. One play in particular that drew the most attention was challenged by Packers head coach Matt LaFleur
On the first play that was challenged, Rodgers threw a deep pass down the right sideline intended for receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling. The play was eerily similar to the one in the NFC Championship game that initiated this whole review fiasco and overreaction this past offseason. Eagles cornerback Avonte Maddox was blanketing the receiver as the pass was in the air and jumped into Valdes-Scantling in a similar fashion to the play in the NFC Championship game.
Rodgers attempted a back-shoulder throw to Valdes-Scantling and as Valdes-Scantling went up over the defender to catch the pass, Maddox made contact and bumped the receiver in his chest as the ball was arriving for Valdes-Scantling. It appears that there was enough contact to warrant a flag and that the defender significantly hindered the ability of the receiver to catch the pass.
LaFleur threw the challenge flag but in replay, in truly baffling fashion and to the surprise of everyone watching, it was determined there was not enough to warrant a reversal to a penalty. It is even more baffling when it is placed side-by-side with the officiating department’s video from the offseason illustrating a pass interference that would be added in replay. While no two plays are exactly the same and there can be varying circumstances, it certainly raises a question of consistency.
Also ironically, the exact same play is used as an example of pass interference on the NFL's video rulebook website pic.twitter.com/I1mLD1xRUv
— Erich Gutsmiedl (@gutsel27) September 28, 2019
The non-overturn is not surprising, however, as this season’s pass interference reviews highlight the subjective nature of the process itself.
In an earlier piece, I stated that these types of reviews are entirely based on subjectivity unless there is absolute clear and obvious evidence of a foul due to the nature of defensive back play and the proximity of the receiver and cornerback during the play. The “stands” versus “confirmed” call on the field further adds to the complexity of the issue because in every review but one, the call is ultimately “stands,” meaning the replay officials did not make a determination if and when the contact initiated hindered the ability of the pass catcher.
It now appears that even significant contact that hinders the receiver’s ability is not easy to determine, though it was clear to anyone watching what the call should’ve been. It again highlights the subjective nature of the process. Two calls highlight this issue and the bang-bang nature of a good defensive play.
In the first play, defensive pass interference was called on the field and upheld in replay. Seahawks defender Tre Flowers appeared to make a bang-bang defensive stop but was ruled to have wrapped his arm around the receiver, hindering his ability to catch the pass, though it is entirely debatable if that act hindered his ability to catch the pass. Replay shows there isn’t enough to suggest that the defender didn’t significantly hinder the receiver.
In the second example, Giants’ safety Jabril Peppers made what also appeared to be a bang-bang play to defend the pass intended for Buccaneers tight end OJ Howard. The play was not initially flagged on the field but was challenged by Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians and reversed to a penalty for pass interference.
The running theme in this past week’s officiating video shows how much more subjectivity officiating central is introducing into the process by taking an already subjective call on the field and looking for even more subjective evidence in replay of contact that may or may not have occurred.
The truly bizarre nature of the calls reviewed in the officiating video is that of the calls that were not called on the field but were challenged and upheld, if they had been called, they likely would’ve also been upheld due to the standard that there must be clear and obvious evidence that defender didn’t significantly hinder the receiver’s ability to catch the pass.
It is clear the league must do something, anything, to remedy this situation. They’ve taken a non-existent problem and created a bigger mess than was necessary. The right thing to do would be to scrap the replay process on this rule at the end of the season. As is clear in the first example above from the Packers game, not even replay can adequately address the non-calls and a call that could’ve likely swung the game in the opposite direction.