2019 Offseason Questions: Will New Rule Lead To More OPI Penalties?

The Pittsburgh Steelers well underway with the offseason workouts at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, also referred to as the South Side Facility. We are already into the heart of the offseason, where hope springs eternal following a few months of pretty significant changes, in terms of both departures and arrivals.

How are the rookies performing? What about the players that the team signed in free agency? Who is missing time with injuries, and when are they going to be back? What are the coaches saying about what they are going to do this season that might be different from how it was a year ago?

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.

Question: Will the new rule change passed this year result in a statistically meaningful rise in the occurrence of offensive pass interference penalties being called in 2019?

I’m going to write with the assumption that those reading this are already familiar with the rule change that was passed, but as a brief summary for 2019, the league has passed a rule that will allow offensive and defensive pass interference penalties to be challenged, whether they were called on the field or not, or to be reviewed by the booth in the final two minutes of the game. The NFL is purporting to use a very strict precedent for overturning these calls even beyond other reviews, hearkening to the ‘clear and obvious’ doctrine.

For most of the history of the game, rule changes have pretty consistently favored offenses. Even the way that games are officiated tends to give more benefit of the doubt to the offense. If a double-catch occurs, the offensive player gets the catch. Offensive players are also typically allowed to get away with more contact before an official calls a penalty.

So players like Joe Haden are hoping that this rule change will actually benefit defenders by giving their teams a resource that will allow them to get some flags on the ground in their favor. It could well lead to more defensive pass interference penalties being calls as well, of course.

I do think it’s about time that there is at least some recourse potentially available against offensive pass interference penalties that routinely go uncalled, and admittedly former Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown was very good at getting away with subtle—and sometimes not so subtle—contact.

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