The NFL completed its first full week of preseason football. Around this time last year, almost everybody was panicking about how there was going to be flags thrown on every other play for illegal helmet hits and hits on the quarterback. As should go without saying, these fears were massively overblown, and the incidence of these calls subsided dramatically once the regular season began for a multitude of reasons.
Many have the same fear when it comes to the big new rule of this past offseason, which allows pass interference penalties to be subject to review—to be negated if it was called on the field, or even to be called upon challenging if no flag was initially thrown.
Through the first week of the preseason, a challenge flag has been thrown or the booth has called down to review an incidence of pass interference a total of 16 times, which is slightly more than one time per game. 14 of those rulings were upheld or stood as called, though two were overturned, including one against the New York Giants and the New York Jets, marking the first time in NFL history that a challenge added a penalty that was not called.
Two of the reviews were initiated by the booth, both occurring in the game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Kansas City Chiefs. One of them was overturned, and the other, many have argued should have been overturned (from a non-call to a penalty).
Some feel that Al Riveron made the decision not to add a penalty to the play because the infraction did not affect the result of the play, and that he would have sided to call for the penalty had it had a result on the third-down pass that fell incomplete after the wide receiver shoved the defensive back.
Among the 16 challenges over pass interference was one in the game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Johnny Holton drew a 27-yard defensive pass interference penalty in the third quarter. Tamp Bay Head Coach Bruce Arians challenged the play, but lost.
Prior to the game, Steelers owner Art Rooney II spoke on the subject. Rooney has been consistently against the expansion of replay, it should be worth noting. “I hope it’s rarely used, rarely challenged, and I hope up in the league office they follow [the idea that] they’re only gonna overturn the real obvious calls”, he said. “Hopefully it’s just correcting a minimum number of plays that need to be corrected”.
Of the two challenges or booth reviews that reversed a call on the field, for what it’s worth, I do believe that both instances were the correct call, though I haven’t seen every play that was challenged, so I can’t speak to whether or not I feel any of the others merited reversal as well.
It will be interesting to see once we get into the regular season how frequently these challenges continue to occur. The first week of the preseason suggests roughly once per game, which is far from egregious (after all, challenging a play can be costly, and you only get three challenges at the max), but I would expect that to be reduced.