How to fix pass interference for the 2020 season? Mike Pereira has a solution
Now that the NFL season is over, here’s the question: If you could make one rule change for 2020 what would it be? I asked former NFL vice president of officiating Mike Pereira, now the rules analyst for FOX, and his response was immediate.
“I would basically tweak it,” he said. “And I’m not just talking about the rule that allows pass interference to be reviewable. I would take that out basically. But the second part is that I would limit the penalty yardage to a maximum of 15 yards.
“I’ve said that for a long time. The penalty is so punitive. And on top of being so punitive, it’s so hard to call. Everybody’s on the move, and there is so much pressure on the officials to make a decision, which could be a 30-or 40-or 50-yard decision -- when, in fact, it’s so subjective. So I’d go to the college rule, which I think works.”
So he’d make pass interference non-reviewable and limit the maximum yardage for all pass-interference infractions to 15 yards. But while the first suggestion is possible … and may already be on the NFL’s radar ... the second is not, with Pereira already conceding defeat.
“I’d say the chances are zero” he said, “unless they made me commissioner for a day. Then I’d get it done.”
HERE’S HIS SOLUTION
Instant replay wasn’t an officiating tool for pass interference until the 2018 NFC championship game between the Rams and Saints when an egregious infraction wasn’t called in the final two minutes, costing the Saints a first down and maybe, just maybe, a ticket to Super Bowl LIII.
The outcry was so loud and sustained that the NFL decided something had to be done. So it adopted a drastic rule change at its 2019 winter meetings, making pass interference subject to replay. The idea was to fix the game and make it better. The reality is: It did neither.
What to do? Pereira has a solution.
“They have to either get rid of it in its current form -- and I think that’s almost a certainty,” he said, “or they have to tweak it and come up with something better than what they have. My suggestion: If they were to tweak it, then A) limit it to the last five minutes of the fourth quarter, and B) make sure the standard is the same, so that interference in replay or on the field is the same.
“What you want the officials to call or not call on the field should be identical to what you want replay to call or not call. Unless they standardize the standard, so to speak, it will never work.”
And it didn’t.
Exhibit A: In a November game between Houston and Baltimore, the Texans’ DeAndre Hopkins was hooked in the end zone and taken to the ground as he reached for a fourth-down pass. It was obvious pass interference, yet no penalty was called. So Houston coach Bill O’Brien challenged it.
The call was upheld.
“Listen,” said Pereira, “there were plays that we all knew were pass interference, and yet it wasn’t called. But then it would go to replay, and replay would basically say, ‘Yeah, it was pass interference, but it doesn’t rise to the level of what we’re looking for in replay.’ That’s not sensible.
“You can’t try to compare everything to what happened in the championship game between the Saints and the Rams. You either have to look at it and say, ‘It is or it isn’t,’ and go ahead and use slow motion and limit the number of challenges the coaches can use. That’s the only way (replay) will resonate with everyone, but I don’t want to see it the entire game.
“You can go back to that championship game in New Orleans a year ago, and there was a big miss on pass interference in the first quarter. You’re going to get those, and nobody says anything. The big miss happened at the end of the game. So make (the replay challenge) at the end of the game, not inside of two (minutes). I would change it to inside the five-minute mark when the timing rules basically change.”
He would also extend it to overtime.
KITTLE VS. RUDOLPH
Anyone who watches the NFL knows there was no standard for pass interference this season, with two key playoff calls the most notable examples.
In the NFC wildcard round between Minnesota and New Orleans, for instance, Vikings’ tight end Kyle Rudolph caught the game-winning TD pass after appearing to push off in the end zone. The play went to replay, was immediately upheld and the Vikings were declared victors.
Three weeks later in Super Bowl LIV, San Francisco’s George Kittle made a 42-yard catch with 14 seconds left in the first half that put the 49ers in certain scoring position at the Kansas City 13. Except it didn’t. He was flagged for offensive pass interference when he didn’t do nearly as much as Rudolph.
Pereira agreed with the Kittle call. He didn’t agree with the Rudolph non-call. And there’s the inconsistency of pass interference that he wants addressed.
“The Kyle Rudolph call should’ve been made,” he said. “Without question, it should’ve been made. It was obvious enough that it should’ve been made in replay, also. So that was just a huge miss at the end of the Saints’ game.
“Really, you have to look at the act itself. Did you get a full extension of the arm in the Kittle play? Which you did. Did it create separation or at least keep separation? Yes, it did. What you have is a better official who made the call that should’ve been made on the Kittle play and an official who was not as good … that didn’t make the call when it should’ve been made in New Orleans.”
Of course, replay was supposed to correct that … and it hasn’t. It only raised the ire of fans who no longer understand what constitutes pass interference because it appears officials no longer understand. But let’s take that a step farther: The conclusion is that NFL officiating is worse than it’s ever been, which takes us … and Mike Pereira … back to pass interference and how it’s called.
“To me,” he said, “top to bottom … top to bottom … the group of officials is probably better (than recent years), but the officiating is worse. So you have to look at it and say, ‘Why?’ I think it’s the fault somewhat of the owners and the competition committee who pass rules that bring unnecessary attention upon the officials.
“I don’t think their officiating was any worse this past year than it’s been. But all we talked about was this crazy rule that took poor Al Riveron (the league’s senior VP of officiating) and threw him under the semi-truck. Because he had to try to figure out what is and isn’t an act that rises to this vague level that they’re looking for.
“So I don’t think it’s any worse (than previous years). But it’s perceived as worse, and I think it’s because of all attention these rule changes have a tendency to bring upon you.”
ONE MORE THING
When the NFL names an officiating crew for the Super Bowl, it doesn’t hire a referee’s entire team. It hires the highest-graded officials at each position from all crews – an All-Star team if you will.
So, where Bill Vinovich was the referee for Super Bowl LIV, he didn’t have the crew that joined him for the first 19 weeks of the season. Instead, he was teamed with the season’s top field judge … and line judge … and back judge … I think you get the idea. Officials for the Super Bowl are the best and brightest from all NFL crews … which seems like a good idea.
Except Pereira never embraced it. And still doesn’t.
“I’ve said this since Day One,” he said, “or ever since I got involved with the league: It makes no sense to me. You play the game as a team, and the two best teams end up in the Super Bowl. I think the best team of officials should end up in the Super Bowl, too, and the best teams are the ones that graded out best as a crew. So it doesn’t make sense to me to separate them.
“There’s too much emphasis put on an individual getting to the Super Bowl. It’s more valuable to me that the team does. Look, if you’re together 19 times during the course of the season, you know your strengths and you know your weaknesses as a group. To me -- and my guys in officiating don’t like to hear this – but I don’t care about the best officials; I care about the best officiating. And that comes from the crew as a group.”
Follow on Twitter @ClarkJudgeTOF