Officiating Non-Impactful Penalties
On the second play of the game, Denver DL Dre’Mont Jones lined up offsides. Officials can handle this type of foul in a number of ways, but almost all competent officials will either talk to the player after the play, or talk to a coach. In this case, I would guess they talked to a coach because the official positioned to see the foul is the Line Judge / Down Judge, who is on the sideline, and they can easily have a quick chat with the coach. These type of conversations happen constantly, and are one of the more important duties for a coaching staff. Some coaches are great at having constructive conversations with the officials, and so when you mention something like this play, they say thanks. Others will use it as an opportunity to curse out officials or make snide remarks about something officials are doing, and don’t take corrective action.
A common complaint about officials is to look at some spectacular play late and note how the formation is illegal because either tackle A72 is too far back or how wide receiver A19 is too far forward to be a “back,” or like above, how defensive tackle B55 is too close to the line. These are fouls that are almost never going to be called, because the penalty is the ultimate result from a conversation about how the game is going. If a player is called for one of these fouls, it is either going to be totally egregious, part of a trick play, or most likely the result of a series of conversations that included warning the coach and/or player. This is a big reason why there are certain parts of the rulebook that we cannot really evaluate from home. The unsportsmanlike conduct against the Broncos in week 1 could have been a terrible call, or it could have been the result of a series of events. Lots of calls are that way, and we cannot really evaluate them without being on the field.
Officials have the responsibility to run the game. At the professional level, there are lots of capable assistants adding little tweaks and making it easier on them. But there is always one official tasked with verifying the game time and one tasked with verifying the play clock (normally the Side Judge and Back Judge respectively). These jobs are pretty thankless, and rarely are noticed except if there is a mistake. Right before halftime, referee Brad Rogers ordered time taken off the clock, and the commentators found that quite unusual. This was not the complete story. The previous play had ended at approximately :38 on the clock, and there had been a fumble recovered by Indy on the play. Frank Reich didn’t immediately seem to know that he had the ball, he did not call time out until approximately eight seconds later. The time stopped at :28. That close to half, the game clock operator tried to put time back on to when the timeout was first called, but either did his math wrong, or tried to put time back on without considering the action of the play, but originally :41 was put on the clock. The officials had a quick discussion, and Side Judge Anthony Jeffries or replay official Bob Hubbell or both decided to set the clock at :30. This was a good correction, though not the smoothest look from the officials.
The game clock and play clock are way more complicated than most people realize. In the NFL there are slightly different timing rules for near the end of the game and near the end of the half. One of those rules caught Matt Ryan in the 4th quarter, where he got caught for delay of game because he thought the play clock would reset fully instead of moving back to 10 seconds when there was a stoppage to pull Nick Bonitto from the game because of possible head injury. The officials were generous on this play and waited probably five seconds after Bonitto had cleared the field before blowing the play ready, but the Colts wanted to treat the injury as a time out and got penalized for it. Using an injured opponent to gain extra strategy time irritates officials universally, and we tend to have no sympathy for teams like the Colts in this situation. It was correct and merciless for Ryan to receive delay of game there.
Garett Bolles broke his leg late in the game and is out for the year. I had wanted to take a moment to discuss his play, and how referees interact with it. He is an incredibly strong player, and plays in a way that invites holding calls.
This play from the first quarter is a great example of Bolles playing into holding calls. Watch him live, and it just looks like he is all over DE Ben Banogu. But watch it again and we see a technique that screams hold but doesn’t impact the play. He had plays like this in every game this year, where he uses insane athleticism to pull back from a hold. As an official who hates holding calls, I love this playstyle and wish the NFL chose to reward it more. Unfortunately, the league wants holding called at a slightly higher rate than I do, and the impact is particularly felt by Bolles. I hope he recovers well and look forward to watching more of his play in 2023.
Would You Call A Penalty?
The officials called holding on rookie Bernhard Raimannon the play. They may have had the wrong number, but most of the time this play is not called a hold.
Is this a foul?
This poll is closed
Yes: Holding Offense #79
Yes: Holding Offense #78
No: There is no impediment
No: Stop throwing so many holding calls and let them play football
Thursday Night Football was not perfect officiating. Umpire Carl Paganelli and Referee Brad Rogers were trigger happy with holding flags, the wings “missed” a spot that was overturned after a challenge, and the crew had a lot of borderline calls go for one team. This would have been easy complain about if those calls were against the Broncos, but this game they were for the Broncos. I charted seven plays that I felt could have easily gone the other way. Six of those calls favored Denver. In short, Denver got lucky with the officiating on Thursday Night Football, something that should absolutely terrify us.