Each week throughout the NFL season, Mike Pereira, the league’s former vice president of officiating, will answer readers’ questions about officiating and league rules.
To put your questions up to Pereira’s review, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org and include your name and location in the submission.
Q: Please weigh in on the late third-quarter pass interference call against the 49ers that was the turning point of a great game. Instead of fourth down and a field-goal try, the Seahawks got a first down at the 1-yard line.
– Steve Cuny, Alameda
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A: It was a big call, Steve, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it the turning point.
In this column a couple of weeks ago, I talked about pass interference and the categories that make it a foul. The first category was contact without playing the ball. This is what the official called. However, just before the ball arrives and any substantial contact is made, 49ers cornerback Dontae Johnson turns his head in an attempt to find the ball. That pretty much takes him off the hook, especially when Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin has his arm wrapped around the back of Johnson and might be pulling him into the contact.
This is a really tough call. Is it defensive pass interference? Is it offensive pass interference? Even in slow motion, it’s still questionable in my book. I will say that it is not one of these calls where you scratch your head and say, “What in the heck did the official call?” There is contact and it does affect Baldwin, but when you look at all the aspects of it, including Baldwin’s participation in it, I think the best call is no call and, often, those are the toughest to make.
Q: How does Ed Hochuli, standing right there, miss the helmet-to-helmet contact that Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt made on Green Bay’s Brett Hundley on the Packers’ last drive Sunday night? It sure looked to me like a bad miss that altered the outcome of the game, and likely the Packers’ playoff chances. Is it time for the NFL to start using replay to penalize head hits like in the college ranks?
– Nathan Meador, Plymouth, Wis.
A: I love it when a question comes from the state of Wisconsin. Thanks, Nathan.
I can tell you are an ardent Packers fan. Maybe I will call Ed “Guns” Hochuli and ask him to pay you a visit and tell you why he missed it. What he really would tell you is that he didn’t miss it.
Hundley is not in a passing posture. He is scrambling and is considered a runner. It makes no difference at that point where Hundley is in relation to the line of scrimmage or the pocket. The only helmet-to-helmet contact that would be considered a foul in this situation is a “crown” of the helmet hit. Watt didn’t lead with the crown, so it isn’t a foul.
I will send Ed to your doorstep and you can argue with him. I have a feeling I know who will win the argument.
Q: Do officials ever warn players? For example, if a player is close to committing a foul and maybe has been on the edge for a few plays, can or will an official give him a warning before actually calling a penalty?
Doug Lent, Citrus Heights
A: It actually happens a lot, Doug. Not only are there warnings, but there are instances where the officials actually help the players before the ball is snapped to prevent them from fouling.
In the world of officiating it is called “preventive officiating.” Pre-snap help happens when the two officials on the end of the line of scrimmage, the down judge and the line judge, help the wide receiver by extending a foot signifying where the actual line of scrimmage is. That helps the receiver line up properly.
You will often see the receiver point to the official, essentially asking if he is lined up properly. The official knows by the formation whether he should be on or off the line. A quick nod of the head from the official lets the player know that he is OK.
After a play, warnings can be given from time to time. A couple of the more common warnings include telling offensive tackles to move up closer to the line of scrimmage or warning an offensive linemen to keep his hands inside. There are many others, but it demonstrates that players and officials are working together to prevent fouls. Nobody likes penalties.
This does not apply in situations that involve player safety, so there are no warnings that are given in regard to hits on defenseless players or roughing the passer. Anything related to a player’s safety is called immediately when it happens the first time.
Mike Pereira is a rules analyst for Fox Sports who lives in Sacramento.