Wednesday, February 15, 2023 10:00 AM

Should NFL refs "let the players play", or not?

in Sports by MegaBearsFan
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Philadelphia Eagles fans are apparently upset that the officials in SuperBowl XVII "decided the game" by calling a defensive holding on James Bradberry (Eagles DB) in the final minute of the game. The Chiefs were already well inside field goal range, so there was little question that they would score to break the tie. But this penalty on a 3rd down gave the Chiefs an automatic first down, and which allowed the Chiefs to run out the clock before kicking that game-winning field goal, thus, preventing the Eagles from having an opportunity to respond with their own scoring drive.

Yeah, sure, it always sucks when a penalty makes or breaks a game, but this was a reasonable penalty to call. We can debate all day whether the tug of the jersey was enough to impede the receiver's ability to run his route and get to the ball, or if the ball was even catchable to begin with. Either way, the tug of the jersey was obvious. By letter of the rule, it is a penalty. Case closed.

This slight tug of the jersey gave the Chiefs an automatic first down, to run out the clock on SuperBowl XVII.

While Eagles fans are upset by this one call, I'm more upset with the inconsistent rulings of the NFL officials throughout the entire 2022-2023 playoffs -- specifically where pass interference and defensive holding are concerned.

Earlier in the playoffs, the refs were apparently letting defenders get away with almost anything, supposedly on the grounds of "letting the players play". The refs were letting slide defensive actions that, in the regular season, would have been called as penalties. Even the commentators were talking about how the officiating tends to be a bit more lax in the playoffs because they don't want a penalty deciding the outcome of a playoff game. Even earlier in the SuperBowl, defenders on both sides got away with more flagrant fouls than the one that eventually decided the outcome of the championship. Heck, I don't think there is a single playoff team that doesn't have a grievance against the officiating in the playoffs -- whether they won the game or not.

So here's my question. (Or questions, I guess.) Are defensive holding and pass interference supposed to be penalties or not?!

If playoff games are supposed to be more "fair" competitions between good teams, and the refs decide, as a matter of principle, to "let the players play", then are they not saying that ignoring certain defensive penalties is better for the game? Are they not admitting that allowing some jersey tugs and slightly early contact results in better quality, more "fair" football? And if that is the case, then why doesn't the NFL better define what qualifies as a "Pass Interference" or "Defensive Holding" in the rules? They've done this with other controversial rules, such as the "tuck rule", "process of the catch", "targeting penalties", and other such rules. So why not spend this offseason clarifying what level of contact beyond five yards from the line of scrimmage is allowed for defenders?

Officials were "letting the players play" all playoffs long, and allowing egregious no-calls to stand.

If "letting the players play" is the standard for officiating, then this needs to be codified in the rules and applied universally throughout the entire season; not just in the playoffs!

Inversely, if those slight tugs of the jersey or slightly early contact are meant to be penalties, then they need to be enforced consistently throughout the season; including in the playoffs!

The rules and standards for what qualifies as a "penalty" should not change simply because a game is a playoff game, or because the stakes are any higher than any other game. The rules are the rules.

Defensive coaches teach players what they are allowed to do and what they aren't allowed to do, based on the rules. They design coverage schemes and teach coverage techniques based on those rules. The players train and practice all season (and off-season) based on those rules and standards. Similarly, offensive coaches design route combinations and teach route-running techniques based on those same rules. Quarterbacks decide which passes to throw, and where to place those throws based on the rules.

Heck, some quarterbacks, like Aaron Rodgers, have made whole careers based on baiting out penalties on defenses to gain free yardage, to keep drives alive, or to set up easy scores. He is infamous for using his cadence to draw defenders offsides then throwing a jump ball deep on the "free play". And he's also infamous for deliberately underthrowing passes against man coverage so that a defender with his back turned runs through the receiver who is trying to come back for the ball, and thus forcing a pass interference penalty by design.

Offensive and defensive players build entire strategies around the enforcement of penalties.

These rules and standards of enforcement need to be applied universally, regardless of when in the season a game is played. If that is too hard for the officials on the field to do, then the NFL should use officials in the booth to rule on penalty enforcement based on multiple camera angles, similar to what they do with instant replay. The officials on the field should, thus, only be on the field in order to refer certain potential penalties to the booth, and to relay the decisions of the booth back down to the players, coaches, and spectators. At the very least, the officials on the field should be required by the NFL to operate under the same standards for every game, regardless of the situation or stakes.

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