The Bears don’t have to look back more than 48 hours, in their own division, to see what type of impact NFL officiating is having on the outcome of games this season. They could look at some of the questionable calls that gave Green Bay enough extra life to pull out a one-point win over Detroit on Monday night. They could also look at Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, who said on Wednesday that, “the last few weeks when we’ve had an explosive play, I basically stop and look around, assuming that it’s coming back.”
Whether it’s the inconsistency of holding calls, the apparent uselessness of the league’s new pass interference challenge, or the QB protection rules that basically everyone hates, the refs have been squarely in the spotlight since last season’s NFC Championship (and probably earlier than that). It’s an aspect of the game that is, at this point, something the Bears spend time during the week planning for.
“We review who the crew is and then where they rank in the calls that they make,” Matt Nagy said on Wednesday. “Some crews, they do a lot more this call than another call than other groups of referees.”
The Bears’ own issues with penalties have been well-documented. They rank 17th in calls against (43), though starting left tackle Charles Leno is the most penalized player in football (8). The offensive line as a whole has struggled with flags, and the unit is responsible for almost a quarter of the team’s total number.
“I'm not going to be critical of the officials, but some of them are phantoms, honest to god,” offensive line coach Harry Hiestand said on Tuesday. “[Leno] had a couple that were clearly penalties, but (not) as many as the number. It was a point of emphasis for [the officials] to start out the season doing it. Then they were calling them all over the place, then they backed off. I can't win commenting on that.”
And after (unsuccessfully) testing out the new ability to challenge pass interference in the preseason, Nagy has yet to try it since – and for good reason. Of the 40 pass interference calls that have been challenged this season, just seven have been overturned. It’s gotten even more drastic over the last month, too: teams are 1-21 since Week 3.
The Bears themselves haven’t had much of a pass interference issue, with the defense tied for 19th (3) and the offensive tied for 22nd (2). Both starting cornerbacks have already been flagged for it once already, but given the league’s seemingly-arbitrary approach to enforcing the penalty, coaching with the refs in mind isn’t something that comes up in secondary meetings.
“Man I just want my guys not to touch it,” said Bears secondary coach Deshea Townsend. “That rule stuff is out of my hands. As long as we go out there and play with good technique – it’s always a human decision. Who knows which way it goes? It’s not mine. Mine is to teach the guys to move with their feet, play with great eyes and we’ll be fine.”Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.