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Here’s how the NFL can fix its pass interference problem

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The NFL rulebook describes PI as when a player “significantly hinders an eligible player’s opportunity to catch the ball,” and goes on to elaborate with several examples of what this might be, including when a player “grab[s] an opponent’s arm in such a manner that restricts his opportunity to catch a pass.” Check and check.

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If the referees had made the right call, the Falcons would’ve gained 33 yards on fourth down, giving them the ball in enemy territory with under two minutes to go. They would have been just a few successful plays from a potential game-winning field goal. Instead, there was no call, and the game was over after a few Seahawks kneeldowns.

While the Jones-Sherman encounter was an example of a prominent missed call, there was an egregiously bad call in the other direction too Sunday. This was ruled to be defensive pass interference on Giants defender Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

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The NFL has a pass interference problem.

A few weeks ago, Greg Bedard wrote for Sports Illustrated about the overwhelming pace with which DPI is being called, and as the season has progressed, the data has held true. Entering Sunday’s games, NFL refs had issued 113 DPI calls for 1,810 yards. They’re on pace to issue 318 for 5,091 yards in the regular season alone. Last year, there were only 243 for 4,343, including the postseason.

I can’t think of a good reason why these fouls would suddenly spike. The NFL did not tweak DPI rules this offseason, and so far as I can tell, there has been no memo to referees telling them to focus on this specific play.

Sure, we can offer guesses why DPI is up. Teams are passing more than ever. That means there are more opportunities for DPI, and that teams are more incentivized to complain about DPI. Plus, fans like points, and the NFL likes points, so it makes sense they’d encourage refs to help offenses out. Plus, wide receivers are getting stronger and faster, and harder to legally defend. Plus, wide receivers have learned how important a DPI call can be, and have gotten good at flailing to get calls. Plus, the NFL is turning into a LEAGUE FOR WUSSES. (That last suggestion is supplied by your uncle).

But all these hint at gradual gains. Even if all these things are true, they wouldn’t explain an overnight 30 percent spike in yardage. Even your uncle would not argue that the league is 30 percent WUSSIER than last year.

And if refs are being overtrained to throw flags at every semi-interference, how did Sherman’s foul on Jones go uncalled? Whether referees are calling PI too often or not often enough, there are several big problems with the pass interference.


How can we fix this?

The easiest solution is to allow review on defensive pass interference. The CFL started doing this in 2014, and it’s fine. Have refs throw flags more freely, and have those flags be reviewable. Easy.

But I’m guessing the NFL’s competition committee and referees would not like this. They’d argue that if we start reviewing one subjective penalty, we’d soon be reviewing them all. That doesn’t have to be the case! We can stop at the really problematic one!

So I propose the NFL change the penalty on pass interference. It should not be a spot foul.

A first down and 15 yards is a great reward for any play. Maybe players would sometimes tackle receivers when they’d been beat, but a) this doesn’t happen in college, and b) I think offenses would be just fine with a world where opposing defenders intentionally give up 15-yard gains sometimes.

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