It’s time for the NFL to have a conversation about defensive pass interference penalties.
Actually, it’s way past time.
Through three weeks in the NFL season—48 total games played, no bye weeks yet—there have been 60 accepted defensive pass interference penalties, according to nflpenalties.com, an average of 1.25 DPI calls per game. Last year, the per-game average for the entire 2015 season was 0.91, which puts us on track for a 37% increase.
There’s the argument that this is just an early season aberration; teams will get better and the calls will even out over the course of the season. Well, not quite. Through Week 3 in 2015, there were 42 accepted DPIs, so we’re 42.9% ahead of that pace.
It gets worse when you look at the yardage. In 2015, defenses lost a total of 4,343 yards through DPI penalties—an average of 16.27 yards per game (including the playoffs). NFLpenalties.com only features numbers back to 2009, but the next-highest average was 15.62 yards lost per game in ’13 (including the playoffs). So far this season, the average per game is 19.88, a 22.19% increase, and the NFL is on pace to have 5,089 DPI penalty yards in the regular season.
There have been three DPI penalties of over 40 yards this season, and six of at least 28 yards—and the Packers have benefited from four of them, including a 66-yard penalty called against Lions CB Nevin Lawson while covering Packers WR Trevor Davis in Week 3. (Elias Sports said it was the longest penalty in at least 30 years.)
Let’s unpack this. The Packers have thrown for 580 net yards this season—29th in the league—and they’ve picked up another 177 through DPI penalties (the next closest team is Denver, at 79 yards gained from DPI penalties). If you combine the numbers, the Packers have gained 757 yards through passing—a 30.5% increase through penalties—which would place them 14th in the league, right behind the Steelers (762). When five teams (Texans, Colts, Bills, Panthers and Ravens) haven’t gained a single DPI penalty yard, and another five have fewer than 10, something is wrong. It’s very wrong when a player named “Defensive PassInterference” is second for the Packers in receiving yardage behind Jordy Nelson (206) and ahead of Randall Cobb (132).
Here’s the bottom line: The NFL is on track for over 5,000 yards in defensive pass interference penalties in a single season. In 2009 it was 3,227. It’s gotten out of control, and it needs to be reined in. The question is, what to do about it? I don’t have all (or probably any) of the answers, but these are in the discussion:
• Get rid of the spot foul on DPI and put in some sort of stock yardage penalty, whether it be 15, 20 or 25 yards. The NFL has looked into this, as recently at last year, but the fear of defensive backs tackling receivers after getting beaten has won out. That thinking needs to stop. If an offensive lineman can keep a sack on third down from happening by tackling a rusher and only incurring a 10-yard penalty, or if a defender can keep a runner from scoring by tackling a player by his facemask (which Denver’s Aqib Talib did in the Super Bowl) and only gets 15 yards (or half the distance to the goal line, in that case), then there needs to be a reckoning with the rule book.
• Make pass interference a reviewable call. The CFL allows both called and potential penalties to be challenged, and while it hasn’t been without its critics, it’s at least worth taking a look at.
The NFL said that a “handful” of DPI penalties were deemed to be incorrect after review, but only one because a pass was not catchable. I get that we live in an era of great athletes and better catches, but there has to be common sense. At the least, it would be nice to see the officials one the sideline to talk it over when a looping pass lands five yards out of bounds.
• Start enforcing the actual rule. The NFL rule book states that interference should be called when a player “significantly hinders the progress of an eligible player of such player’s opportunity to catch the ball.” Also, “if there is any question whether contact is incidental, the ruling shall be no interference.” Let’s get back to the “significantly hinders” part of the rule.
• The rule also states that there is no interference if the pass is “clearly uncatchable,” so let’s bring back the enforcement of catchable passes. When I was growing up in the 1980s, every kid on the playground knew the uncatchable ball signal and enforced it in pickup games. It’s used so seldomly now I doubt kids even know what the signal is.
I watched all 60 DPI penalties. I counted eight there were highly questionable (13.3% of the called penalties, which I believe to be significant) and four of those were, in my opinion, uncatchable, including the ludicrous fourth-down call against Saints LB Craig Robertson on fourth down that allowed the Raiders to go down and win the game. The others: a 20-yard penalty by Steelers DB Ross Cockrell against the Bengals; 13-yarder against Saints CB Sterling Moore in a loss to the Giants; a 12-yarder on Texans CB Jonathan Joseph against Patriots on third down of the Patriots’ first scoring drive.
I’m sure there are more options on what should be done (feel free to send your ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll run the best ones next week). But most people would agree that something needs to change. Defensive pass interference penalties are out of control. When one team is able to use the rule has one of its leading receivers, then that rule needs to be tweaked for the good of the league.
Go crazy, folks
NFL in a slump: TV ratings for the NFL so far are down just about across the board. Maybe the national anthem protests have something to do with it, but I think the biggest factor is a combination of three things. First, the NFL has lost some star power with Peyton Manning retiring and Tom Brady being suspended for the first four games of the season. I mean, Trevor Siemian vs. Cam Newton doesn’t exactly have the same ring to it. Neither does Jimmy Garoppolo vs. Brock Osweiler. Big names draw the casual fans, and the NFL is lacking in big names right now.
Another factor is the lack of parity—there are many teams that have been losing for a long time in the NFL. The Dolphins, Bills, Jets, Browns, Titans, Jaguars, Raiders and Chargers have been “meh” at best of late in the AFC. Same goes for the Redskins, Lions, Bears, Falcons, Buccaneers, Saints and Rams in the NFC. Maybe those fan bases are just worn out, and not many are on course for optimistic seasons.
Finally, the NFL’s insistence on having Thursday Night Football and making the league a year-round venture may have caused some fatigue. Sundays and Mondays used to be special, and then you spent the other five days getting geared up again. Same with the off-season. Football used to be a fall and winter sport. Now it never stops. Maybe people needed that break. We shall see, but I don’t think the slide will continue. At some point, the new stars will become bigger and carry the league after Manning and Brady (whenever he retires). The NBA went through a tough time after Michael Jordan retired but has since rebounded.
Slow your roll
Cardinals will be back: Yes, the preseason Super Bowl favorite of some (big dummy) has stumbled out of the gate at 1–2, including a 33–18 loss to the Bills that wasn’t nearly that close. The Cardinals’ players and coaches have been awful to this point in the season. Looks like there has been a lot of clip-reading in the facility and not enough preparation for the season or for individual games. But that team is too talented and the coaches are too smart for this go on much longer. Sometimes these things happen (remember, the Patriots were 2–2 after an embarrassing 41–14 loss to the Chiefs in ’14 and went on to win the Super Bowl). Arizona’s coaches will need to change things on offense (which is too reliant on deep passing) and defense (which has discipline and coverage problems) to get things turned around.
10 thoughts on Week 4
1. Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins had a terrific game against the Texans. His athletic skills are the best at the position in the league, and he has the talent to be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. The problem, after starting the season with two mediocre performances: He doesn’t always play to that level. And it seems like internally the Patriots have been dealing with that.
“When I was in the building I would tell Jamie Collins this: The team really is as good as he wants them to be,” former Patriots executive Mike Lombardi recently said on the Bill Simmons podcast. “He sets the tone, and when he plays good, the team plays good defensively.” Collins will be 27 next month, is in his fourth season and is in a contract year. If there’s any time for Collins to realize his potential, this is it. He needs to be great every week if he wants to be considered (and paid like) a great player.
2. Since the “Buttfumble” game between the Jets and the Patriots in 2012, the average of margin of victory between the Patriots (five-straight wins) and Ryan (one win) has been four points in the last six matchups. Patriots’ largest margin of victory has been eight points.
3. Straight out of film-watching notes after observing Jets QB Ryan Fitzpatrick rip up the Bills in Week 2: “Jets passing offense is mostly players winning 50-50 balls. Fitz was hot against the Bills, but that’s hard to sustain. Will look ugly for stretches.” Guess six interceptions counts as “ugly.” Look, this is what you’re going to get with Fitzpatrick: Some games he’s going to be the hero, some he’s going to be the goats. He’s never had much consistency in his career and that has to scare the Jets (look what he did with the playoffs on the line last year).
4. Another year, another season in which the Texans get basically nothing out of the tight end position, which is fairly important in the Bill O’Brien/Patriots scheme. C.J. Fiedorowicz, Ryan Griffin and undrafted rookie Stephen Anderson don’t block or catch well enough to earn much time, and Houston’s inclusion of so many two-TE sets vs. New England was a big reason why the Texans imploded on offense. Expect more teams to follow the Patriots’ lead by putting a safety over the top of both DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller, challenging Osweiler to beat you with anybody else. Texans need to go with more three-wide (Jaelen Strong) and four-wide (when Braxton Miller is healthy) sets to bring more athleticism to the middle of the field.
5. We’ll get a better gauge on where the Panthers’ shaky secondary is after Sunday’s tussle with the Falcons. Rookie corner James Bradberry has looked better since a rough opener against the Broncos. But the Falcons will be a much stiffer challenge than the 49ers and Vikings as far as weaponry.
6. Expect Saints QB Drew Brees to have a little extra juice for the Chargers: This is his first game back in San Diego since the Chargers decided to go with Philip Rivers over Brees, who was a free agent recovering from major shoulder surgery in 2006.
7. If the Cardinals are going to rebound, they’ll need RG Earl Watford and RT D.J. Humphries to hold their own against Rams DT Aaron Donald and DE William Hayes. Watford and Humphries really struggled against the Bills, both with one-on-one rushes and stunts. Expect the Rams to be active up front against Arizona.
8. Eli Manning must play better if the Giants are to avoid a two-game skid. Not only was he inaccurate, but his reads were also way off against the Redskins. For example, on the interception in the end zone, the primary read (Odell Beckham Jr. running a corner route from the right inside slot) was wide open thanks to twin clearout slants underneath. But Manning never looked that way. Plays like that happened multiple times in that game.
9. I always learn something when I read Aaron Schatz and the crew over at FootballOutsiders.com. This week was no exception. Seems like we’ve entered a phase where defensive performances vary a lot more than offenses. “Last year was the rare year where the best defense was stronger than the best offense, and the worst defense was weaker than the worst offense. It's happening again so far this year. The top defense (Seattle) is farther from zero than the top offense (Oakland). The worst defense (Atlanta) is farther from zero than the worst offense (Houston).”
10. Rest in peace, Clarence Brooks. The former Ravens defensive line coach was laid to rest on Wednesday and many Ravens attended. I covered Brooks early in my career with the Dolphins, and then we kept in touch, especially when the New Bedford, Mass. native was part of my duties at the Boston Globe. Just a tremendous man and coach who will be dearly missed. One of my favorite all-time NFL people. The Ravens will wear a “CB” decal this season.