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Tim Benz: The NFL is screwing up its own replay fix

Tim Benz
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The Steelers’ Joe Haden is called for pass interference against the Saints’ Alvin Kamara on Dec. 23, 2018, at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.

Leave it to the NFL to block itself from doing the right thing when it comes to pass-interference replay.

The league was about to do something that showed eminent good sense. Now, it’s going to screw it up.

Bear with me through this winding road of missteps and stupidity as we recap. I’m as mad at the league for making you read this as I am at the league for making me type it.

In March, NFL owners voted to allow replay reviews for pass-interference calls and (eventually) non-calls. This was a clear response to the blown non-call in the Saints-Rams NFC title game.

At the time, the problem with this significant rule change was that the owners gave replay officials sole power to initiate the review process in the final two minutes of each half and overtime.

• Fast forward to May. After a slew of complaints from fans, players, coaches, and media — including yours truly — the owners realized their massive oversight.

They should’ve made the coaches challenge all pass-interference calls and non-calls. Because if the booth is looking to review all calls and, especially, non-calls for pass interference in the last two minutes of a close game, those two minutes may take two hours.

Hence, last month, the owners voted 31-1 to amend that rule change, making it so the review had to be initiated by a coach’s challenge throughout the entire game, including the last two minutes.

Good.

But not so fast.

• That brings us to this week. NFL.com’s Judy Battista discovered that the league might not make that change after all.

What? Why?

My response to the coaches would be, “Fine. You don’t want added responsibility of governing your challenge flags properly? OK. You don’t want the potential benefit of replay bailing you out of a bad call against your team? We’ll go back to replaying zero penalties then.”

This is dumb. The NFL identified a problem and now won’t allow itself to fix it.

Having the coaches challenge pass-interference calls and non-calls doesn’t solve the pesky debate over what to do with Hail Marys. But I’d rather have those rare impact heaves come into question than any conventional pass play in the last two minutes of a game.

So what’s the NFL’s solution? Well, according to ProFootballTalk, it’s a predictably convoluted, half-measure, attempting to split the difference.

Mike Florio writes, “Per a source with direct knowledge of the discussions: The replay official will apply a higher standard for determining when to activate automatic replay review in cases of offensive or defensive pass interference, called and not called.”

Florio continues, “If they see a clear and obvious error, based only on the real-time play and/or full-speed replays, they will activate an automatic replay review. The replay official and the replay assistant won’t employ the kind of slow-motion, frame-by-frame assessments that currently are used by the in-stadium replay booth to determine, for example, whether a receiver gets two feet inbounds after making a catch. The replay official and the replay assistant will have only full-speed replays available for the assessment of whether pass interference did or didn’t happen.”

Hmm. OK. So I’m clear: The booth will review potential pass-interference calls. But it will intentionally restrict itself from using all the technology at its disposal. The booth will also only initiate reviews when it is, like, you know, almost totally, super sure a call was (maybe) missed.

Got it? Good. Because I’m not sure I do.

What I think that means is, if the Jesse James play against New England had been a pass-interference debate, the call would’ve stood, and Steelers would’ve beaten the Patriots.

Look, if pass-interference calls are important enough to review, then they are important enough to review to the full power of technology available.

If pass-interference calls are important enough to review, then they shouldn’t be held to a different standard of how to initiate reviews.

If they aren’t as important to review, don’t bother doing it in the first place.

The NFL is caught dead in the middle of replay right now. I get the impression it wants to be halfway invested in it and halfway attempting to get out of it.

Especially on this pass-interference debate.

If ProFootballTalk is right, this latest tweak isn’t even “I’ll know it when I see it.” This newest tweak is, “I’ll guess if I’m suspicious.”

One thing is obvious: League rule makers are thoroughly confused here. So imagine how the coaches, players, and fans are going to feel this fall.

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Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.

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