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 email@example.com and include your name and location in the submission.
Q: Players are under tremendous scrutiny on every play. I have heard you say that the NFL reviews all plays for missed or incorrect calls by the refs. Fans see the bad calls every Sunday but never hear anything about them once the game ends. How would you feel about the NFL publishing all of its findings regarding the correct and incorrect calls for every game on its website? This would allow fans some satisfaction that the NFL acknowledges that the missed call the fans saw was a mistake by the ref.
– Mark Blaskey, Arlington, Va.
A: I think your question is well-intended, but a bit misguided. Officials are under just as much scrutiny as players. Social media points out most all of their mistakes. I point them out. So does the mainstream media. More criticism is heaped on officials than anybody else involved in the game. No one points out the good decisions they make. And there are a lot more of those.
As far as publishing the grades, the NBA has done that for calls that are made in the last two minutes of the game. What has that accomplished? Not a thing except to put more pressure on the officials and incite more fans against the officials if they read the reports. The decision to do this was made by non-officiating people in the NBA league office and has nothing to do with improving officiating and everything to do with embarrassing officials. It was a public relations move, which served to discredit a great group of officials.
I’ll tell you what, Mark. I would agree to publish the officials’ grades if the teams publish their grades on each player. If they publish every missed block, every missed assignment, every blown coverage, every bad coaching decision, every one of them on every play, then I say go ahead and release the officiating mistakes. I can 100 percent guarantee you which list will be longer.
Q: When a first down is made between the yardage lines, the side markers estimate where the first-down maker is placed. But when they measure for a first down, they bring out the poles and take it down to inches. How do they know that the markers were precisely accurate when they started that series of downs? Was it the 22.4-yard line or 22.7? It seems to be only an estimate after a first down is made.
– Paul Krow, Lincoln
A: It is, in fact, an estimate. It never has been exact and if I have any say about it, it never will be.
So little in the game is exact when it comes to re-spotting the ball after a penalty or an incomplete pass. There is certainly nothing exact about marking the spot where a runner goes out of bounds. That is true even after replay reviews the spot. Officials don’t get the exact spot when a foul such as pass interference is called.
The game is all about estimates, and – unless we want to put lasers and chips in balls, lines, chains, players, penalty flags, etc. – it is going to remain that way.
And that’s how I prefer it. There’s enough technology used in the game already.
Q: Please clarify why a running back can “stiff arm” a defenders’ face mask with his fingers clearly inside the mask and grabbing but a defender cannot? Is there a rules difference or just more leeway given to running backs?
– Glenn Martin, Royal Palm Beach, Fla.
A: This might be the least understood rule in the game. I really think the confusion is caused by the different standard that applies to runners and tacklers, offensive and defensive linemen, and defenders on eligible receivers.
Let’s start with your question, which applies to runners and tacklers. There is absolutely no difference between what the runner and the tackler can do. Both can use an open hand on the face mask in an attempt to ward off the tackle or in an attempt to bring down the runner. Both can grab the face mask, but neither can pull, twist or turn it. At times, it does seem as if officials focus more on the tackler and miss a face mask call on the runner, but that is a mistake. The rule is the same.
When it comes to interior linemen, you can’t go to the face mask and pin back the head of your opponent.
If the player brings his hand off the mask quickly without creating an advantage, it is not a foul.
The tightest standard applies to defenders blocking receivers who are releasing off the line of scrimmage.
In this situation, you can’t contact the mask or head of the receiver at all if it turns the receiver’s head in any way.
So, there are three different standards for illegal hands to the face. No wonder it’s difficult for a fan to understand the rules.
Mike Pereira is a rules analyst for Fox Sports who lives in Sacramento.