Fan calls refs ‘tools’ of over-officiated NFL. Mike Pereira throws challenge flag

49ers involved in one of three fights Sunday. How Pereira expects NFL to crack down

Officiating guru Mike Pereira breaks down the three fights from Sunday's action, including a skirmish involving the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals.
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Officiating guru Mike Pereira breaks down the three fights from Sunday's action, including a skirmish involving the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals.

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 and include your name and location in the submission.

Q: Football (the NFL) is the most ridiculously over-officiated sport of all time, and instead of recognizing that and fixing it, the league continues to make it worse. Refs are absolutely looking to throw flags, and they are ruining/have ruined the game. When in the name of anything that matters will the league (and the refs who are the tools of the league) stop calling so many penalties and let these guys play?

– Tom Smare, San Jose

A: I think you’re right, Tom. Football is ridiculously over-officiated.

After all, the NFL averages 16 penalties per game in approximately 156 plays.

That’s way too many. We have to let them play, just like you say. Let’s let them foul. Let’s let them false start. Let’s let them line up offside. Let’s let them commit pass interference. Let’s let them hit the quarterbacks in the head.

Matter of fact, let’s just get rid of those “tools of the league,” period. Then we would have a much better game. It would be a beautiful thing to watch. Let’s get rid of TV commercials, too.

As a matter of fact, Tom, I think you ought to apply to become commissioner of the NFL since Jerry Jones seems intent on finding a new one. At the very least, you should be the one writing a weekly article in The Bee. We would all learn a lot more.

Enjoy the rest of the season.

Q: Do fans have to return/throw back a football that goes into the stands? Players also hand footballs to fans, even though each team gets only 24 per game. At $75-plus a pop, it seems that the footballs would be more tightly controlled.

– Stephen Farr, Folsom

A: Once the ball goes into the stands, it pretty much stays in the stands.

That being said, the NFL does its best to keep the footballs out of the stands, Why? Well, it’s not because they can’t afford the “$75-plus a pop,” but it does make them typically more valuable than a baseball, for instance, and historically led to fights in the stands as fans tussled to collect a souvenir.

Thus, the invention of the kicking net behind the goal posts and the $6,000-plus fine for heaving the ball into the crowd.

It’s OK to hand the ball to someone or even toss it directly to a fan in the first row or two. That is not a concern to league officials.

By the way, good knowledge of the fact that each team has 24 balls to be used for their plays from scrimmage. When it comes to kicking situations, there is a grand total of six.

Q: In a recent Raiders game, there was a play on which a Raiders receiver caught a pass, took several steps, then was hit hard by a defender. A referee threw a flag and called the receiver defenseless. How does a defender tackle a receiver if he can’t hit him? The “defenseless” receiver was trying to score.

– Doug Goodale, Roseville

A: The rules makers have made it hard to play defense, there is no question about that.

This is especially true when it comes to hits on defenseless players. Total liability is on the tackler. While the body angle of the receiver might change, it is the responsibility of the defender to adjust his angle and make sure he doesn’t hit anyone in the head or neck area with his helmet, shoulder or forearm. He also cannot lead with the crown of his helmet and hit him anywhere.

So how does he make the tackle? I say you have to lead with the shoulder and lower the target area so it is clearly below the receiver’s shoulder. This puts the legs at risk, but in the eyes of the NFL, the potential of suffering a concussion is more important than injuries to the lower legs.

To expect a defender to change his approach in a nanosecond is unrealistic. But the league is willing to put the burden on him to reduce the rate of concussions.

Mike Pereira is a rules analyst for Fox Sports who lives in Sacramento.