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Reviewing just one type of penalty won’t work, and the Steelers proved it on Sunday

When only one particular penalty is reviewable during a play, it creates a situation where multiple penalties were missed but only one can be enforced

Seattle Seahawks v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

It was meant to fix the calls that were obviously blown. Unfortunately, the new rule for 2017 where pass interference calls were challengable and subject to review has confused both NFL fans and analysts so far with its application. As games progressed on Sunday afternoon, NFL Hall of Fame coach and former Steelers player and a defensive coordinator Tony Dungy voiced his frustration with understanding the rule via Twitter.

It was just over an hour later Dungy share his opinion on the reversal of the call in the Steelers-Seahawks game.

Even during Sunday Night Football where Dungy is a pregame and halftime analyst there was a call which seemed to not follow the standard outlined by the league.

One thing is abundantly clear when it comes to the new review procedure for pass interference penalties: the standard the league is using is extremely unclear. While the standard is supposed to be “clear and obvious” in order for it to be overturned, some replays which seem to fit the standard are not overturned while plays some feel should not even be reviewed are than overturned. The inconsistency is frustrating across the league.

While the NFL officiating office in New York is continually showing it’s complete ineptitude in handling the situations, a fatal flaw in the rule itself has become very apparent after only two weeks. The game-changing play against the Steelers on Sunday is a prime example of why only reviewing parts of a play may never fairly determine the outcome of the play in full.

If the NFL truly wants to be fair when it comes to officiating, you can’t change judges partway through the competition. If performing in a talent show, it’s not fair to take the score of one judge for one competitor and compare it to the score of a completely different judge for another. What they each subjectively see is not going to be a fair comparison. It would be much like changing the home-plate umpire for the top and bottom of an inning every game in baseball. What one may consider a borderline strike another may call a ball. Both teams expect to be governed by the same interpretation of the rules.

Enter Al Riveron, the head of officiating in the New York office who sticks his nose into game situations where it does not belong. Once a play goes to review, there is no reason for someone to make a call based on a slow-motion replay in a game where they haven’t been making calls the entire time. Some officials allow more contact in certain games than others. While the flow of the game might have allowed a lot of contact, now someone watching the game in New York is making the call based on what they feel is correct. It would be much like a baseball umpire getting to decide if a key pitch is a ball or strike when players have been adjusting their game based on what another umpire has been calling. For a complete rundown of the review process which shows it is NOT the game officials making the call, check out a visual interpretation of the process according to the NFL HERE.

For this reason alone, pass interference penalties should not be reviewed. Or if they are, it should be solely at the discretion of the official who did or did not make the call. Not even the head official should be determining these plays unless they were the one making the specific real-time judgment. Additionally, pass interference can look more or less egregious when it comes to slow motion. The only way a call should be overturned is if the official involved with the call gets to watch a replay at game speed.

But this isn’t even the most concerning case. What if there is a play where multiple penalties were missed, but only one team gets the benefit of reviewing an infraction? With 8:54 remaining in the game at Heinz Field on Sunday, Seattle was faced with a second down and 20 yards to go on their own 20 yard line. After a long pass fell incomplete and as the next play was already being run, a whistle blew for a booth review due to a coach’s challenge. Whether or not the challenge flag was thrown before the next play started is not the focus of this exercise, but feel free to leave your opinion about that below. The problem with reviewing this play was there were no less than three obvious penalties that were not called, and not all of the penalties were on the same team.

Before the ball was thrown, T.J. Watt was obviously being held as Russell Wilson scrambled out of the pocket. Had he not been held, Watt had a great chance to either end or alter the play. But the officials did not throw flag for the hold. Once the ball was thrown, Bud Dupree had a helmet-to-helmet hit on Wilson. This penalty was also not called at the time, but a fine from the NFL office would not be a surprising move. The only part of the play that was challengable was the non-penalty against Terrell Edmunds for pass interference.

During the commercial, I said to Brian Anthony Davis there was no way they could overturn the call. It would’ve been more likely for a penalty to be called against the Steelers and it be overturned in their favor and waved off. But somehow the office in New York managed to completely screw it up on a play that even the announcers considered borderline and definitely wasn’t “clear and obvious.”

The problem with this play is the penalty which was overturned was probably the least egregious of the three penalties that were missed. If all three calls would’ve been made, it would have been second down and 20 at Seattle’s 20 yard line yet again as they would have been offsetting fouls. But since only one penalty is reviewable, a ticky-tack call was able to be applied while two obvious other infractions were ignored.

One thing which has been made clear is when a play undergoes a review, all aspects of the play are open to be overturned. But not all penalties are reviewable. So even though the review officials could’ve seen numerous penalties against the Seahawks as well as the obvious one on Dupree, the only one they could judge was the borderline pass interference.

Regardless of the poor decision they made, only being able to review part of the play is ridiculous. For example, if a receiver were to come off the line and grab the defenders facemask and throw them to the ground before the ball is thrown, run deep down the field, and then get bumped as they went up to make a catch, the beginning part of the play where they made such an outlandish foul cannot be overturned in replay. If the ball is not in the air, it can’t be pass interference so that aspect of the play is not reviewable.

I don’t want to say that reviewing pass interference definitely has to go, but it can’t be the only penalty which is reviewable because it is deemed “game changing.” Do you know what was game changing? It was the 10 yard penalty that would have offset the 38 yard penalty that was called against the Steelers. So saying that the yardage involved in pass interference makes it more important ignores the fact the yardage is insignificant when another penalty is called where the two would offset.

As usual, the NFL managed to screw this up big time. The only question is how long it will take until they do something to try to fix it.