Of the many public opinions that Pittsburgh Steelers President Art Rooney II has shared over the years, one of those that have been most consistent and most clear would be his desire for the expansion of the use of replay to be limited in scope.
Nevertheless, he joined 31 other owners—with Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown opposing—in approving a rule change that expands replay for the 2019 season that allows pass interference penalties to be subject to review.
Rooney talked prior to the voting to get underway that it was his sense that there would be come changes to the replay system, but that he hoped whatever it would be would be limited. When this rule passed, he described it as a compromise after the Competition Committee unanimously endorsed it. Remember, Head Coach Mike Tomlin is a member of that committee.
“It’s the first time we’ve had penalties that could be reviewed, so in that regard it’s kind of a major change”, Rooney said. “But it’s for one year. I think the thinking was that these are usually consequential plays involving a lot of yardage, so that’s why it’s gonna be tried out for one year”.
The impetus for change came from the NFC Championship Game of the previous season, during which the New Orleans Saints were the victims of a defensive pass interference penalty that should have been called in a late and critical third-down situation.
Had the obvious penalty been called, the Saints almost surely would have advanced to the Super Bowl. Instead, the Los Angeles Rams were afforded the opportunity to tie the game after New Orleans settled for a field goal and ultimately won in overtime.
That was not the only high-profile pass interference situation of the season, however, and Rooney’s Steelers were a part of one of the other big ones. In Week 16, in the first half, Joe Haden was flagged for a defensive pass interference penalty in the end zone on a fourth-down play from some ways out.
Instead of the Steelers receiving the ball on a turnover on downs, New Orleans was awarded first and goal on a play that not only wasn’t pass interference, but a pass that was not catchable. They scored the next play, and though Pittsburgh eventually led, that touchdown was still greater than the margin of victory, and helped to keep them out of the playoffs.
Previously, the Steelers were the victim of another rule that was changed in the following offseason, with the catch rule being revisited after tight end Jesse James was determined upon review to have not caught a pass that would have been the go-ahead touchdown in the waning moments.
Rooney noted that the rule change is “kind of major”, but it could be just the first step in a series of kind of major changes that greatly expand the scope of the replay system over the course of the next several years.