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 for Pereira’s review, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org and include your name and location in the submission.
Q: How was that offensive pass interference against 49ers receiver Trent Taylor late in Thursday night’s game against the Rams? It looked as if there was nothing there, yet the penalty essentially cost San Francisco a chance to win.
– 49ers (and for that matter Rams and NFL) fans everywhere
A: This is the type of play that I used to really not like when I ran the officiating program in the NFL. Why? Because it’s a huge call, and I can’t really prove whether the official is right or wrong. It’s certainly, based on the shot that you got on television, suspect at best. The only replay that was shown was from the middle of the field, looking through the back of the defender, and it’s inconclusive. It’s surprising to me that there were no other angles that the network was able to show to at least give us a better look.
The TV broadcast showed me two indicators. For one, Taylor, after he caught the pass, actually just got up and went back to the huddle and didn’t complain. He didn’t complain until the next day, in the media. And secondly, the defender, when he was at the sideline, immediately came up and gave the signal as if he had gotten pushed at the top of the route. But those are just indicators. It doesn’t prove whether it happened or not.
I was hopeful that the All-22 video would show me more; it is shot from a high angle to give a view of all the players and officials. But neither that nor a high-angle shot from the end zone that focuses on the interior blocking revealed anything concrete. The sideline shot looked as if there might be some type of a push off, but it’s too far away and totally inconclusive.
So in the end, when the 49ers and the head of officiating look at the play, they just have to say that you can’t prove the official right and you can’t prove him wrong. The way we used to treat these plays in the NFL is that you will go with the call on the field that was made by the person that had the best angle. That clearly was the side judge who had the direct look in between the two players, and he’s the one who made the call.
Q: Too often referees make mistakes, shifting the momentum of a game or, in the case of Thursday’s Rams-49ers game, completely ruining a game. With so much emphasis placed on perfecting the challenge/review process, why not include penalties in this process? This option seems feasible as there are only a few big penalties within a game that would need to be reviewed.
– Kyle M. Botermans, Corvallis, Ore.
A: I understand the desire to involve replay in either calling or taking away penalties, but that’s really heading down a slippery slope. Already, there are penalties that can be reviewed: illegal forward passes from beyond the line of scrimmage, the number of players on the field, illegal touching of a kick or a pass, but those are all factual situations. When you’re talking about players on the field, there’s either 11 or 12. When you’re talking about whether a kick is touched or not touched, those are facts. They are not judgment calls.
If you start reviewing judgment calls in replay, it becomes dangerous. In fact, it already has. Replay is now a part of what is a catch or not a catch. It is one thing to review whether or not a receiver gets control or whether he gets two feet down but to use replay to review whether he has the ball long enough to become a runner is totally subjective. Replay is making judgment calls at different speeds than the officials see it, and to me it’s ruined what is a catch or not a catch. It has eliminated the common sense application of the rule.
Even if the offensive pass interference at the end of the 49ers game had been reviewed, the ruling would have stood because of inconclusive video. I just don’t think replay needs to get more involved. There are enough stoppages of the game. Good teams play through officiating errors and, most of the time, the errors balance out. It’s just part of the game.
Q: I frequently see centers move the ball forward as they prepare for a snap. Often it is several inches, and sometimes nearly as much as a full ball length. On some inches-to-go downs, the center makes the first down before the ball is even snapped! Why is this allowed?
– Jeff Yterdal, Elk Grove
A: It’s an interesting point that you bring up, but I think one that has really very little impact. Every center gets the right to adjust the ball, and I do think when they adjust the ball, probably nine times out of 10 it ends up a few inches ahead of where it was. Most of the other linemen are already set, and it doesn’t move the line to gain. Sometimes, when the center resets the ball, it is moved forward so that it then puts the defense offside. If that happens, officials are told to ignore the foul for offside.
But pretty much beyond that, it’s really been the feeling that there is no advantage gained. While you see the center spin the ball to get the laces where he wants them, or tilt it to get the desired angle for the snap, that’s allowable. Now, once he gets it set on the ground, after he makes his final adjustment, then he can’t move it forward. If he does move it forward, then it becomes a false start. But prior to that, really nobody pays attention.
Mike Pereira is a rules analyst for Fox Sports who lives in Sacramento.