Solution to the NFL's Roughing the Passer Problem - Make Game Changing Penalties Reviewable


We're only a few weeks into a new NFL season and there have already been two controversial roughing the passer penalties making the news. Like it or hate it, referees have a big outcome on football games, especially since they are making judgement calls based on events happening at full speed and, unlike many other things, like turnovers, determining whether a player was inbounds, etc., there is no opportunity for them to reverse their mistakes.

The NFL tried to correct this problem a couple years ago by making pass interference penalties reviewable following a controversial post season non-call. That proved to be a disaster, and because of that, I suspect the NFL will hesitate to go down that road again. However, while there is no perfect solution, there is a way to correct at least a good chunk of the problem without getting too complex.

Each team is already allowed up to three challenges per game (two challenges plus a bonus challenge if they win the first two). The simple fix would be to use that system and just expand it to include penalties. This would be with certain restrictions, however:

First, a team can only challenge to reverse a called penalty. The main problem with the NFL's pass interference efforts wasn't the overturned calls as much as the penalties that were called after the fact. That was something I think bogged down the game and created more controversy. Restricting the challenges to just the penalties that draw flags will be a little cleaner.

Second, the challenge can only occur if the penalty results in a first down or negates a first down or score. Nobody wants to see a game lengthened over a 5-yard offsides penalty or an offensive holding call that occurred on an incomplete pass. Giving the coach the ability to challenge a holding call that negates a touchdown, in comparison, makes a lot of sense because that is a game changing moment, along with any defensive penalty that gives a team a fresh set of downs to work with.

Again, there's no perfect solution. However, the NFL could cut down on at least half the controversies caused by referees simply by making this easy fix. The game moves too fast for the human eyes sometimes and there's nothing wrong with using technology to correct game-changing human error.


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