Everyone in the NFL wants to know how making calls and non-calls reviewable on pass interference is going to affect the game this season.
But the officials making the annual visits to training camps to go over new points of emphasis can’t really predict that.
These are game officials, as referee Shawn Smith, who visited the Eagles the other day, pointed out. They’ll be making, or not making, the calls on the field. They won’t be reviewing anything, they’ll be left to announce whatever Alberto Riveron, the senior vice president of officiating, and the folks back at Art McNally Gameday Central in New York have decided.
“From a [pass interference] standpoint, that’s really not a change, it’s just it’s a reviewable aspect now,” Smith said during his NovaCare visit. “There haven’t been a lot of concerns about how we’re going to officiate that.”
The rules on pass interference aren’t changing, it’s just that they’re now subject to being applied retroactively.
Since no one really knows yet how drastic a change this might be, Eagles coaches say they haven’t changed anything about how they advise their players. Figuring out what is going to be different will be a major focus of the preseason.
“I think you still coach good technique,” defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “You just realize that some things are going to look different in 4K slow-motion replays than they do on the field. It puts more on the plate of Doug [Pederson] and his staff, whether to review a play, offensively or defensively. But it really doesn't change our coaching.
“Before, we weren't trying to get away with anything. We weren't trying to add sneaky fouls that nobody saw. So you still keep coaching the same way. But it does add more, on not just Doug and his staff, but every coach around the league when it comes to whether to challenge or whether not to, because they're big plays.”
The change was made in the wake of one of the biggest plays imaginable, which affected the host New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship Game against the Los Angeles Rams.
With one minute, 49 seconds left in regulation, the Saints faced third-and-10 from the Rams’ 13, the score tied at 20. The Saints were well within their kicker Wil Lutz’s field-goal range, but they wanted to drain more clock before giving the ball back to Jared Goff and the Rams.
Quarterback Drew Brees found wideout Tommylee Lewis open at the right sideline on a wheel route, at about the five. As Lewis waited for the ball to arrive, Rams corner Nickell Robey-Coleman flew in and slammed Lewis to the turf. Then the ball flew past. Robey-Coleman’s back was turned to it. It was blatant pass interference, to 73,028 screaming Saints fans, and pretty much even to Robey-Coleman, who said afterward he got up expecting to see a flag.
The Rams won in OT, then looked outclassed in a 13-3 Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots.
You could conclude that the league ended up sending the wrong team to the Super Bowl, which is about as bad as it is ever going to get, unless something like this happens in the Super Bowl itself.
Everyone agreed a massive injustice had occurred, so the review rule changed at the Arizona league meetings in March. Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie spoke in favor of the change, which went much further than what the competition committee had recommended – Lurie said he thinks the league needs to do everything it can to get calls right.
“You’re asking people to devote their heart and soul – you’re asking your players, your coaches and your fans to devote … our heart and soul to it. It’s not just [like] you’re manufacturing shoes,” Lurie said then. “If you’re asking people to deliver their emotions to the product you’re presenting, then you owe it to everybody you’re presenting it to, to be as accurate as humanly possible.”
But as Schwartz noted, something that looks blatant when slowed down and magnified might actually have been pretty incidental in real time.
Theoretically, if someone tugs at you a little on a route, you could just flop to the ground as in soccer and see if you can draw a penalty kick or a yellow card.
“I hope our game doesn’t turn into a bunch of flops,” Eagles offensive coordinator Mike Groh said, smiling, when a reporter made a soccer analogy. Groh clearly believes this is unlikely. “I think you could probably nitpick on every play … Hopefully it just doesn’t slow the flow of the game down and that we just allow it to develop, and we work through it in the preseason ... I think we’re going to have to get into the preseason games and use those as a litmus test to try to figure that out.
“From a technique standpoint offensively, we’ve always tried to coach and play within the rules. We haven’t tried to gain advantages by pushing off and all those kind of things. We’ve tried to coach the right way and get our players to play the right way.”
Riveron, in various presentations this offseason, has used the term “clear and obvious” to try to assuage fears, but after the presentations, people present have reported that some of Riveron’s examples really weren’t clear and obvious to them.
“Everybody can see, that’s going to be a pain in the butt,” Eagles corner Avonte Maddox said, when asked if he expected the new emphasis to make a difference. “They’re always bringing new rules. You’ve just got to adjust to them. We’re still playing our game.
“I’m not even thinking about that. I’m worrying about who I’m lining up against and what’s the play called and what I have to do on defense.”