Back in 1998, during the rookie season for Randy Moss, former Steelers linebacker Jack Ham was discussing both the young receiver's ability to torture defenses deep, and his ability to draw long defensive pass interference calls. There was a play that year in which a defender interfered with Moss 59 yards downfield, and the Vikings' offense was awarded the football at the spot of the foul. About the play, Ham said, "Nothing short of pulling a gun on the field should be worth a 59 yard penalty."
As I watched Keenan Lewis get flagged for a 40 yard foul while covering receiver Hakeem Nicks on Sunday in Pittsburgh's 24-20 victory over the Giants, I hearkened back to Ham's words many years ago. Yes, during the play, Lewis did place his right hand on the back of the receiver as he knocked the football away, and as most know in today's pass-happy NFL, it's very illegal to touch a receiver after five yards. By the letter of the law, you might say the official who threw the flag was just in his decision. However, was it a penalty worthy of 40 yards?
I never understood the spot fouls for defensive pass interference because you're assuming the receiver would have made the catch without interference, and isn't that assuming a bit too much?
When a pass-rusher gets held while closing in on a quarterback, do the officials award him a sack? No, the offensive lineman is called for holding and the offense gets pushed back a measly 10 yards.
When a defensive back is blatantly interfered with while attempting to intercept a pass, is he awarded an interception? No, the offense keeps possession and is penalized a measly 10 yards.
There are a lot of things that have to happen for a catch to be completed--believe it or not, the NFL has made it tougher on receivers by forcing them to maintain possession all the way through to the end of the play--so why is an offense so richly rewarded after one of its receivers is interfered with downfield?
Huge penalties like that can not only sway the momentum of a football game, they can change the outcome entirely. Is it really in the best interest of the NFL for games to change so severely by a penalty?
Many have suggested the NFL should change the defensive pass interference penalty to 15 yards, like it is in college. However, I'm not so sure a complete 180 is the answer.
Why not leave it up to the discretion of the game-day officials? As CBS announcer Phil Simms stated on Sunday after the call on Lewis (he didn't agree with it, by the way, I know it's hard to believe since he's one of the dozens of national announcers who hates the Steelers), it's a judgment call. If pass interference is a judgment call, couldn't varying degrees of interference be judgment calls as well?
Officials spent years doing a pretty decent job of differentiating between five yard facemask penalties and those of the flagrant 15 yard variety. The NFL eventually changed the rule to an across the board 15 yard personal penalty for any facemask infraction. However, the zebras are still given the freedom to distinguish between running into the kicker and roughing the kicker, and Joe Nedney aside, they've done a more than decent job over the years.
If two guys are fighting for the football, I'm sorry, but the offense shouldn't be awarded a first down at the spot of contact. It's simply not fair. If an official feels as if contact was made by the defender, throw the flag. However, why not just make it a 15 yard penalty? Now, if a defender pulls an Ike Taylor and face-guards a receiver, pulls one or both of his arms down as he's trying to catch the football, or simply drags him down after being severely beaten on a long pass, then yes, penalize that man as many yards as are necessary.
Those are my thoughts on the subject. What about you?