On Sunday morning, it was reported that the Los Angeles Rams are planning to resubmit a rule to the NFL Competition Committee allowing all personal fouls to be reviewable.
This will be the second time the Rams proposed this rule. They did the same thing last year and the Competition Committee voted against it 9-0 and didn’t go any further.
The renewed fight to make this a rule was due to two high-profile roughing the passer calls that everyone but the referee in charge felt was a bad call. The first, Atlanta Falcons defensive end Grady Jarrett sacked Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady in a seemingly legal way, but the flag was thrown, and the Buccaneers won the game. The second, Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones strip-sacked Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr and recovered the fumble, but a roughing the passer penalty negated all that and resulted in the Raiders kicking a field goal.
Many feel that if teams were able to challenge those calls, those kinds of “obvious” bad calls would be overturned and we wouldn’t be spending an entire week talking about two examples of bad officiating. But while this sounds like a great idea in theory, it’s just going to make a bad situation worse.
If you believe either of those two calls would be overturned, you’re fooling yourself. I can prove that because both referees, having the benefit of hindsight, defended their calls after their respective games.
Jerome Boger, who threw the flag on Jarrett, said about the play, “What I had was the defender grabbed the quarterback while he was still in the pocket, and unnecessarily throwing him to the ground.”
Meanwhile, Carl Cheffers, who flagged Jones, explained, “So when [Carr] was tackled, my ruling was the defender landed on him with full body weight. The quarterback is protected from being tackled with full body weight.”
The problem isn’t that these two referees didn’t see the play and made the wrong call, it’s that after 19 years of refereeing experience for Boger and 23 years for Cheffers, they’re so insulated in this NFL referee bubble that their interpretation of the roughing the passer rule is so warped that it’s devoid of any common sense and reality.
When that’s the issue, all challenging a play will do is make everybody even angrier because the referee is going to confirm their already terrible call. It’ll waste time and waste a challenge and timeout for the team that was already getting screwed in the first place.
In 2019, the NFL had a one-year trial period where teams could challenge pass interference calls. That was in response to the New Orleans Saints losing the previous season’s NFC Championship Game after referees missed a rather clear pass interference call with under two minutes to go in a tied game. The Saints settled for a field goal, which the Rams matched with 15 seconds left, and then won in overtime to go to Super Bowl LIII.
After that game, everyone was so angry, they wanted pass interference calls reviewable to make sure something like this won’t happen again. The NFL decided to try it for the 2019 season and it resulted in so few overturns that no team bothered to suggest it become a permanent rule.
According to the Washington Post, there were 101 reviews related to pass interference that season and just 24 were reversed. Of those 24 reversals, three resulted in the refs picking up the flag and determining there was no pass interference and all three times were for offensive pass interference. NFL coaches went 0-for-13 in challenges when defensive pass interference was the original call.
Three years later and it looks like some people haven’t learned their lesson. As much of a disaster as it has been calling roughing the passer penalties over the past week, this would only make things worse. You cannot expect someone to overturn their own call when their interpretation of the rule is different than everybody else’s.
Honestly, the most likely appropriate course of action is to not do anything. In his report, Adam Schefter revealed that after the NFL said they were easing up on roughing the passer penalties this season, calls were down 45% through Week 5 compared to last year. A total of 51 roughing the passer penalties were called in the first five weeks last season while 28 have been called this year. It’s just a lot more glaring when two very bad calls happen in high-profile moments in consecutive days.
It may not be a popular decision but it’s the right decision for the NFL Competition Committee to not change a thing, again turn down the Rams’ proposal to allow personal fouls to be reviewable and get some referees who have some common sense.