48 pass interference replays in 49 preseason games
Pretty much everything in the NFL took a backseat to the surprise retirement of Andrew Luck, including the potentially dramatic change to pass interference calls and non-calls via the inclusion of those plays in replay review. With one more week of the preseason to go, here’s a look at how that adjustment to the rulebook has unfolded so far.
The 49 preseason games played to date have included only 48 replay reviews of pass interference calls and non-calls. Of the 48 replay reviews, 75 percent (36 total) related to defensive pass interference calls and non-calls and 25 percent (12 total) happened in cases of offensive pass interference calls and non-calls.
For offensive pass interference, five of the replay reviews involved OPI that was called on the field and challenged (four coach’s challenges and one replay-booth stoppage); the other seven entailed an effort to get the replay review process to drop a flag for pass interference (six coach’s challenges and one booth-initiated review). None of the five instances of offensive pass interference called on the field were overturned. One instance of a non-call becoming offensive pass interference occurred, via a coach’s challenge.
For defensive pass interference, 10 challenges happened when a flag was thrown. All came from coaches, and none were overturned. The other 26 occurred when no flag was thrown (25 were initiated by coaches, one by the replay official). Of those, 21 rulings on the field were unchanged. In five situations, the replay process resulted in a flag being thrown for defensive pass interference.
While an average of slightly less than one pass interference call/non-call replay review per game may not be enough to allow big-picture trends to emerge, a couple of observations can be made.
First, it’s almost pointless to try to get a ruling of offensive or defensive pass interference reversed. In nearly every instance, the flag results from contact. Unless it’s clear that there was no contact at all -- or, in the case of DPI, if it’s clear that the contact happened before the ball was thrown -- coaches should not waste their precious few red flags on trying to make calls of interference go away.
Second, the success rate for getting a flag dropped for defensive pass interference is high enough to make it worth the risk to initiate a challenge. Almost 20 percent of the contested non-calls of defensive pass interference became DPI via replay review; that percentage may be even higher when coaches are more judicious with the use of their challenges. Considering that it’s a spot foul that could swing 20, 30, 40, 50 yards or more of field position, it’s worth the risk of losing the red flag, especially late in a game when either trying to erase a deficit or to rack up some insurance points.
Regardless of whether the standard for transforming a non-call of defensive pass interference into a ruling that DPI occurred is much, much lower than it should be (and it is), there’s definitely a strategic advantage to be gained by coaches who throw the challenge flag at the right time, because through 49 preseason games it’s clear that NFL senior V.P. of officiating Al Riveron will be much more inclined to find clear and obvious evidence that pass interference occurred when it was not called than he will be to find that it didn’t occur when it was called.