The NFL really seems to like making at least one fairly significant rule change during the offseason. This year, the biggest change concerned the pass interference penalty, because now, for at least a one-year trial basis, penalties—whether on the offense or defense, and whether called on the field or not—are going to be challengeable.
It is the first step in what may turn out to be a forward push to introduce more penalties calls to the replay system, something that multiple members of the Competition Committee talked about in recent months when the original rule was passed.
But it’s already been tweaked since then, making the rule an exception in yet another way. Not only will it be the only penalty that is currently subject for review, it is now also going to be the only challengeable play for which a coach can challenge within the final two minutes of halves.
And it can only be challenged by a coach, or more accurately a team. In other words, pass interference penalties would not be subject to a booth review as all other challengeable plays are in the final two minutes of each half, during which coaches are also not allowed to throw a challenge flag.
Reportedly, the reason behind this tweak was, at least in part, in the hopes of making it more uniform which types of pass interference penalties get challenged. Leaving it all in the coaches’ hands does not allow the officials to interfere in that respect.
It can be a double-edged sword, of course. On the one hand, it gives you the ability to challenge a call that the booth may miss and choose not to review on its own. On the other, if you don’t have a challenge remaining and your team is the victim of a bad call or no call, then you have no recourse, even if otherwise the booth would be able to make the necessary correction.
Never before have coaches had to worry about saving a challenge into the two-minute warning period, so that can potentially alter their thinking about how they use their challenges throughout the other 56 minutes of the game. At the same time, there still remains only one thing they can challenge.
It’s also been indicated that the league wants to exclude Hail Mary passes from being officiated this way, which introduces its own complications, such as determining and defining what specifically qualifies as a Hail Mary pass. That will set the boundaries for what plays can be challenged for pass interference.