Before we can evaluate the officiating from the Denver Broncos Week 4 matchup, we need to discuss the officiating personnel. Down judge Tom Stephan hurt his hamstring early in the second quarter and was out for the game. Officiating injuries are annoying, but with a six man crew (plus replay official and assistant and with help from New York AND with a highly trained electronic clock operator and chain crew) it is still pretty easy to provide coverage with only a few small gaps. Losing a down judge or line judge provides less coverage for read options and quarterback runs, as well as making coverage harder on screen plays and pick/rub routes. For this game, the impact was minimal, though in a Bills vs Ravens or Cardinals vs 49ers game would be a different story. Nevertheless, we should give the officials a degree of slack, because they were working down a man.
Replay and Officiating Philosophy
Tom Stephan was hurt on play in which Field Judge Michael Banks ruled a catch by Oakland receiver Mack Hollins a touchdown, despite his right foot obviously coming down out of bounds. There are three possible explanations for this situation, and they are worth considering. The first is that Banks was thinking college football rules and made a glaring but forgettable mistake, which is highly unlikely for an official with twenty years of NFL experience. The second is that his judgement was quite poor. The third is what I suspect actually happened – he called it a touchdown because he had adjusted his mechanics to focus only on securing possession without considering the players foot placement.
Because all scoring plays (and turnovers) are reviewed, there is a very strong bias among officials to rule any questionable call a touchdown and let the replay sort it out. This is particularly true on plays where the replay official will likely have access to excellent angles that the official on the field didn’t, like a receiver trying to tap their feet inbounds (definitely not goal line plunges, where officials are lined up to have perfect views already). This type of reasoning is controversial among officials – it provides a reliable mechanism that normally gets the call correct, but it encourages questionable judgement and invites unneeded criticism upon the officials. I enjoy having instant replay available in my games to assist with strange and bizarre situations but find it frustrating that many uses of instant replay are to cover up for bad officiating mechanics, or to muddle the leagues philosophy of officiating. In this case, the booth replay official took advantage of the injury to Stephan to inform the crew that Hollins was obviously out of bounds, and so the crew quickly changed the obviously incorrect call.
Denver had two different illegal shifts called, and one obvious illegal shift missed by the crew. Illegal shift should be a non-existent penalty in the professional game – it is for having two offensive players go in motion / shift positions and then not get fully set before the play begins. It is caused by a QB not getting plays called in time, weak coaching, the playcaller not calling plays fast enough, or the playcaller designing a bad scheme. Hackett and Wilson seem to have ironed out the delay of game issues, but still are struggling with football basics. Illegal shifts are penalties that just shouldn’t happen at the professional level. Or the collegiate level. Or the high school varsity level. These issues are pretty common for middle school football, or in high school JV football teams, or apparently for the 2022 Denver Broncos.
No Personal Foul
The current league philosophy on personal foul calls continues to baffle me. They have decided they want fewer calls this year and are letting a lot of stuff go that seems needlessly aggressive. For example, on KJ Hamler’s awesome catch, he fell down catching the ball. By rule any defender touching him ends the play. Over the past decade we have become accustomed to defenders tapping these downed players, though twenty years ago they would frequently hit the downed receiver with all available force. Las Vegas Raiders’ safety Tre’von Moehrig decided to try to peel the ball loose, and lifted Hamler entirely off the ground then dropped him while doing this. Back Judge Greg Meyer was maybe three yards away during this action and decided to not call unnecessary roughness. This kind of conduct is honestly borderline. Its weak for a call, but its violence with no real purpose and can both escalate and cause injury. I continue to be surprised that the NFL is fine with this.
Would You Call A Penalty
This week we begin a new feature – would you call a penalty – where each week I will pick one borderline call that the officials did not call but could have and you get to vote on if they should have thrown that flag. Our first one is near the end of Vegas’ first drive. Watch the clip and vote below. The key remember with holding is obstructing the progress of the player by your block in a way that impacts the play
Should the officials have thrown a flag?
This poll is closed
Yes: Holding on Mack Hollins (#10)
No: Let them play
No: He didn’t obstruct Gregory enough
No: It didn’t impact the play because Gregory made the tackle
I was not impressed by the officiating this week. They put themselves in the position to look bad too often, and didn’t see a consistent philosophy on display. Especially in the second half of the game they called questionable holds against both sides . They had a touchdown called incorrectly, and some mediocre spots early in the game (and some late in the game, but I give them a pass for missing their Down Judge). I charted questionable calls and no-calls against both teams. The officiating was fair, and applied in even fashion against both teams. The Broncos had an embarrassing loss, and their problems on Sunday were of their own making.