It’s the toughest call in football. It’s also the worst rule in the NFL.
Now, I think the rule needs to be turned into pass tense. To understand what gets me so hot about this rule, let’s first start with the definition as stated in Rule 8, Section 5, Article 1:
“It is pass interference by either team when any act by a player more than one yard beyond the line of scrimmage significantly hinders the progress of an eligible receiver’s opportunity to catch ball.”
Now let’s focus on the two key words in that explanation: SIGNIFICANTLY HINDERS. The act has to significantly hinder the receiver or defender. It’s one of the most difficult calls for an official to make in real time. And the penalty of placing the ball at the spot of the foul is too severe.
I want to look at three plays during Sunday of Week 5, all pertaining to pass interference.
Game 1: Eagles at Steelers
The situation: Philadelphia had the ball, third-and-3 at the Pittsburgh 44-yard line with 6:24 left in the first quarter. There was no score. Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick attempted a long pass to Jeremy Maclin that was incomplete, but pass interference was called on Ike Taylor, giving the Eagles a first down at the Pittsburgh 13-yard line.
My take: This to me is not a foul and thus it should not have been called. In the NFL offices when I was the vice president of officiating, we used to call this hand fighting or sometimes chicken fighting.
When both guys are using their hands to ward off or push or slightly grab, then you don’t want to make that an interference call. You need to make a decision that one player’s action clearly hinders the other player’s ability to make the catch. That’s not the case here and it shouldn’t have been called. The penalty was a 31-yard mistake in my opinion.
Game 2: Packers at Colts
The situation: Indianapolis had the ball, first-and-10 at the Green Bay 42 with 2:03 left in the third quarter. Green Bay led 21-13. Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck attempted a long pass to Donnie Avery, who was defended by Sam Shields. Shields was called for pass interference.
My take: I’m sure the official that made the call thought Shields cut Avery off, but Shields is looking back for the ball and making a legitimate play in an attempt to intercept the pass.
A classic cutoff is when a defender runs into a receiver without looking back for the ball and after the contact then turns back to make a play on the ball. Shields had every right to his position, since he was clearly playing the ball and it was not a foul. Another mistake in my opinion, this one for 25 yards.
Game 3: Seahawks at Panthers
The situation: Carolina had the ball, first-and-10 at the Carolina 23 with 8:22 left in the second quarter. Seattle led 6-0. Carolina quarterback Cam Newton attempted a pass to Steve Smith that was incomplete, but only after Seattle’s Brandon Browner made contact with Smith prior to the getting to the receiver.
My take: Here’s one of my issues with defensive pass interference: sometimes the contact by the defender is so close to the time that the ball arrives that you literally can’t see it until you see the slow-motion replay. When I was with the NFL, I always used to say that if a play was that close, don’t call it.
Why? Because it’s unrealistic for anybody to see that in real time and you’re risking being wrong on a penalty. In this case, if the official had made the pass-interference call it would have resulted in 38-yard penalty. Had he been wrong, it would have resulted in a 38-yard mistake.
Here’s my position on it: make the obvious pass interference calls and forget about the ticky-tack calls. It’s about the only way you can ensure consistency and eliminate costly mistakes.
If it were up to me, I’d adopt the NCAA pass interference rule for the NFL. The NCAA rule states that if the penalty occurs more than 15 yards down the field, you make it a 15-yard penalty.
The enforcement of the pass interference penalty in the NFL needs to become past tense.