Tim Benz: Too many rules questions heading into 2019 NFL season | TribLIVE.com
Breakfast With Benz

Tim Benz: Too many rules questions heading into 2019 NFL season

Tim Benz
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin talks with an official during the first half against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018.

NFL referee Shawn Smith and his crew working Steelers practices Aug. 2 at Saint Vincent College met with media members to discuss new rules enforcement, explanations, and points of emphasis.

Smith showed a video, said a few words and then took questions.

As I was sitting in the news conference room, a few things really hit me.

Booth officials will influence pass-interference reviews even more than we think: The night before the press gathering, the first-ever reviewed pass-interference call occurred during the Hall of Fame Game between Denver and Atlanta.

The call on the field was defensive pass interference against Denver’s Linden Stephens. The Broncos challenged. The call was upheld.

But when I mentioned how there was some hand fighting between Falcons wide receiver Justin Gage and Stephens, Smith said that if the replay officials determined Gage was guilty of offensive pass interference, they could’ve assessed that penalty against Atlanta upon review.

“Once we get into any reviewable situation, any reviewable aspect of the play is reviewable at that point,” Smith explained. “So if the quarterback was beyond the line when he threw the ball or if the pass was tipped, then any reviewable aspect becomes a part of that.

“We don’t want to get into a situation where we are reviewing what was challenged and then there is something else that is a reviewable aspect that we could have changed or caught.”

In other words, even if Denver had simply challenged the validity of the defensive pass-interference call, the booth could’ve upheld the penalty, yet still negated it by adding an offsetting offensive pass-interference call.

Right. Even if Denver wasn’t looking for that as part of the challenge.

So that’s a whole extra kettle of fish to add to this process.

Lowering-the-helmet calls could be a fiasco: If they bother to enforce last year’s rule enhancement as it is being explained, anyway.

Frankly, I hope they don’t.

It now sounds as if the NFL wants a flag dropped regardless of intent, area of the field or how close the hit is to the opposing player’s head or neck area.

Bottom line, you can’t initiate contact by lowering your helmet to anyone, at any place, at any time.

Player safety, this. Protecting themselves from lawsuits, that. Yada yada.

If the on-field officials are supposed to call lowering the helmet in the manner illustrated by the video we saw, there will be a penalty on every play.

Literally, every play.

The odds of all 22 players avoiding that violation on any snap would be nearly impossible. Almost as impossible as asking the officials to watch all 22 players simultaneously for that and any other penalties.

So, essentially, it’s going to come down to the officials calling only the most blatant and egregious examples.

That’s fine.

But the minute one zebra goes ticky-tack in the first quarter of a game, the precedent is going to be set for a flag-fest.

Where were “the lobster block” calls when we needed ‘em?: Basically, “the lobster block” is a colloquial way of saying “holding a pursuing defender on the back side of a run play.”

You won’t hear, “Lobster block. No. 78. Offense.” It’s just a holding call.

“It’s just kind of our term for it,” one of the officials told me. “Kind of like getting your claws around the defender.”

There’s nothing new here. I just wish they had bothered paying attention to it when James Harrison, Joey Porter and Greg Lloyd were playing. Think of all those stretch plays over the years that were run away from those guys that they could’ve tracked down from the backside if they weren’t held.

Or, better said, all the losses as a result from those holds the opposing teams should’ve drawn had those penalties been marched off.

Taunting and premature celebrating could become real issues: Now, if players celebrate or non-uniformed personnel run on the field from the sideline when a scoring play takes place, the penalty doesn’t have to get tacked onto the ensuing kick.

The defense has the option of pushing back the conversion 15 yards. Hence, an extra point is the equivalent of a 48-yard field goal. And a two-point conversion will be snapped from the 17-yard line.

A thick line between officials and replay: I asked Smith about the pace and procedure between downs to allow for replay to get a look at potential pass-interference calls during hurry-up situations. After all, they will be adjudicated from the booth this year in the last two minutes.

Another official in the group jumped in and abruptly interrupted, “We don’t officiate to replay.”

Well, that’s just not true. In fact, on close-call clear-path scoring plays, it is wise to do so. That way, those questionable plays can be automatically reviewed without inducing a challenge.

But in that moment, as well as a few other times during the session, the explanations and body language from the on-field crew felt and sounded like, “Hey, we just do what we are told. Don’t complain to us about the replay advisers and the rule book.”

I walked away with the distinct impression that the zebras, who used to be the ultimate arbiters of justice, feel like they have been reduced to nothing but inconsequential pawns.

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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