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The NFL Isn't Quite Sure How To Fix Pass Interference

Photo: Gerald Herbert (AP)

The NFL acknowledges that pass interference is kind of a mess. Not only is it perhaps the most subjective of judgment calls officials are asked to make, but the very nature of it—often with more than five or 10 or even 15 yards in the balance—means it has the potential to swing games more than any other sort of flag. Sometimes it swings a conference championship. So the league is prepared to do something about it. Just not, apparently, something that would have made a difference for the Saints.

The annual league meetings are in Phoenix this week, and among the potential rule changes to be voted on will be various proposals for addressing pass interference calls—or non-calls—with replay. One proposal calls for a one-year trial period in which coaches would be allowed to challenge pass interference flags. Peter King reports that the proposal has broad support around the league, though it’s still unclear whether it’ll have the 24-vote supermajority needed to pass. “I think it’s going to be very close,” one member of the NFL competition committee told him.

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More clear are the prospects for a proposal that would allow coaches to challenge pass interference non-calls—a direct reaction to the lack of a flag on Rams CB Nickell Robey-Coleman’s hit on Saints WR Tommylee Lewis at the end of the NFC championship game. But there is no appetite for letting teams challenge non-calls of any stripe. King reports that an informal poll of coaches and GMs showed fewer than eight teams in support.

“There’s been a real reluctance to putting a foul on the field,” said NFL VP of football operations Troy Vincent, and that’s understandable. Whatever the problems with NFL officiating, they’re not worth opening the Pandora’s box of letting the replay booth flag plays. There are problems, though, and the league’s internal stats say pass interference is clearly the biggest one.

[D]efensive and offensive pass interference account for the most officiating errors on impactful plays. Defensive pass interference accounted for 70 percent of fouls with the largest impact on a game-winning chance in games from the 2016 through 2018 regular seasons. Of the 50 biggest incorrect calls made during that span, 24 were defensive pass interference. Offensive pass interference is the most common mistaken non-call.

The proposals will be up for vote on Tuesday. No outcome will make Saints fans feel better.

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