It’s not uncommon at all to see the NFL pass major rule changes in an offseason following the occurrence of a play that greatly called the previous rule to question. The league has a habit of being reactionary to high-profile moments that make them look bad. Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin—a member of the Competition Committee—said that he is hoping the league can finally get beyond that and get out in front of problems before they arise.
“I think the committee has an appetite for expanding replays that’s significant, that it hasn’t had in the past”, he said in the wake of the adoption of a rule that makes pass interference subject to review. “I think it is reflected in the replay proposals presented by the committee at variant levels of expansion. It speaks to our desire to be active in the expansion in replay in an effort to get the most obvious plays correct. The kind of discussion that we all have been having who want to safeguard and protect the integrity of the game”.
The rule that passed was just one of several that were on the table that sought to make penalties reviewable in some form or fashion, as Tomlin alluded to. One proposal wanted all personal fouls to be reviewable, while another wanted all penalties to be reviewable. The one that passed allows uncalled pass interference penalties to be called upon review, to address the NFC Championship game.
“I think it’s realistic to say plays annually stimulate discussion involving replay. We’d all like to get to a point where we are not reactionary in our reactions and forward thinking”, Tomlin admitted, “but you have to acknowledge that there have been plays that stimulated a lot of these discussions, whether it’s what we are talking about here, or whether it was catch or not a catch from a few years ago. It’s annually singular plays that stimulate significant discussions that are a catalyst for change”.
Last year was a revisitation of the catch rule after the Steelers ended up losing to the New England Patriots in a crucial game that decided homefield advantage. Tight end Jesse James looked to have scored a go-ahead touchdown in the waning moments only for it to be overturned upon review. Under the new rule, it would have been a touchdown.
You can point to other plays for other rules that were passed, such as the lowering the helmet rule as a reaction to Ryan Shazier’s devastating spinal injury that he suffered in 2017. I’m sure you can add your own plays to the list.
Until the league’s rules actually reflect the realities of the game, they are going to have to continue to be reactionary in response to the margins where the limitations of the rules are exposed. And for those looking for those changes, we’ll just have to wait until they become necessary.