After a controversial ending in the Cowboys-Lions NFC Wildcard playoff game, the issue of expanding the use of coach's challenges to penalties has been brought to the forefront of casual, water cooler discussion. In fact, Steelers fans can probably appreciate the desire to amend the current protocol, as an apparently clean-looking sack by Jason Worilds of Matt Ryan earlier this season was deemed roughing the passer.
While roughing the passer and pass interference infractions carry large chunks of penalty yardage, both calls also rely almost entirely on an officials point of view and interpretation of the league's rules. Needless to say, missed calls, or calls that seem incorrect, have a way of affecting the outcome of a game. The penalty on Worilds didn't affect the outcome of that particular contest and the Steelers were quick to shake off any notion that the call was anything other than correct, but players and fans of the Detroit Lions would likely have a starkly contrasting attitude.
On this very site, many comments over the past several weeks have involved the NFL being "rigged". While that assertion seems slightly exaggerated, it's worth pointing out the league's effort to protect against hits to offensive players has restricted the ability of defenders to, well, play defense. Defensive backs are allowed almost no gray area when defending a receiver, while pass rushers have an extraordinarily small margin of error when attacking a quarterback.
Thankfully, Mike Tomlin has stated he "wouldn't be opposed" to an expansion of the league's coach's challenge policy, per Scott Brown of ESPN.
"I'm not opposed to expanding the capacity of coaches to challenge plays in an effort to get it right. As a coach I'd love that autonomy," Tomlin said. "I'm also in to being a part of the solution as opposed to sitting around and complaining about the current state, I have an opportunity to do that. I take a great deal of pride in that. I just don't want to sit on the side and be a complainer."
While allowing a challenge of penalties may seem like splitting hairs, it's possible the NFL could forge some sort of agreement that prevents NFL games from being five hours long. A proposed change, however, would likely face almost universal criticism from officials, who's jobs have gotten decidedly more difficult in the last decade, given the NFL's ever-changing policy on player safety.
Expanding the coach's challenge to encompass penalties would, much like the United States Supreme Court's view of the Constitution, by narrowly viewed. The NFL would likely restrict a challenge to a "more important" play, such as a roughing the passer penalty, which carries 15-yards and an automatic first down, or pass interference, which is always a spot foul, and an automatic first down. If the NFL would choose to make any personal foul challengeable, it could potentially slow the pace of games to a near crawl.
In fact, increasing the amount of challenges might not even be necessary. The adoption of rules forcing an automatic booth review for all turnovers and scoring plays has drastically reduced the need for challenges in the first place. Not to say coaches are using their challenges less (because they aren't), but something that's challenged in 2014 likely wouldn't have been challenged in 2004, when coaches knew they might need a precious challenge for a scoring play or turnover. Certainly extra challenges wouldn't be needed for penalties, as the two already in possession of the coach should suffice, forcing the head men to be more stingy with their red flags.
It's a slippery slope when discussing the legality of reviewing penalty calls in the course of a game. Tomlin, while not advocating a change, isn't against amending the current policy. So, hopefully the head man of the Steelers knows what the league is in for should the rules ultimately change, although it doesn't seem like he will be the one to champion the cause.