One of the major stories in the NFL this offseason was the decision earlier this year to expand replay to allow for offensive and defensive pass interference penalties to be reviewable, at least for a one-season trial run in 2019. The rule allowed for both penalties called and uncalled to be subject to review.
The impetus for the change stemmed primarily from a non-call in the NFC Championship Game that helped to decide the result of the contest when Los Angeles Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman committed a foul that was not called on a critical late third-down play. The New Orleans Saints ended up settling for a field goal and the Rams would go on to win the game.
Reportedly, however, there could be changes made to the rule before it ever comes into play, according to Judy Battista. According to the report, the owners may allow the Competition Committee to propose a change to the rule that will not require the approval of the owners if they determine that a tweak is necessary when the next annual league meeting takes place next week.
The potential change being talked about would be to limit pass interference penalties only to coaches challenges, and not calls down from the booth to review the play, which would limit the number of reviews that can take place in a game, and provide “greater consistency” in which examples of the penalty are reviewed. Coaches challenges for pass interference, and only pass interference, would be allowed within the two-minute warning periods, however.
Of course, even if the rule is limited to only allow the penalty to be challenged on the field by a coach, that still has the potential to be significantly transformative. It would certainly have made the NFC Championship Game different. The Pittsburgh Steelers could have also benefited from it in Week 16, which was another one of the examples that were discussed during the meetings that led to the rule being approved.
The NFL certainly loves to tweak rules, and they frequently also tweak major new rules before they even take place, so I can’t say that I would be surprised if we actually see something altered in the rule next week.
After the rule was originally passed, it was spoken of as perhaps a stepping stone, the first domino in a wave of changes over the course of the next several years that greatly expands replay, perhaps eventually encompassing nearly every aspect of the game.
Whether or not that happens is going to rest quite a bit on how the pass interference rule is officiated this year and how it affects the watchability of the game, something that the league is becoming increasing invested in.