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After Further Review: Broncos Officiating Week 3 Breakdown

Breaking down the good, the bad, and the passive from the officials during the Denver Broncos 11-10 win over the San Francisco 49ers in Week 3.

San Francisco 49ers v Denver Broncos Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

Welcome to After Further Review where every week we examine in depth some elements of the officiating from the previous weeks Denver Broncos games.

The week 3 game against the San Francisco 49ers saw a lot fewer penalties, but also some puzzling and inconsistent calls from the officials.

Offensive Holding

Holding is the most misunderstood penalty in football. The part that most fans miss is the relevancy clauses. As Rule 12.1.1.C.1.a-f makes clear, not only does a hold need to materially restrict the opponent, but it needs to impact the play. This makes the call far more subjective and difficult to call, as an official needs to not only correctly see and judge the offending action but also needs to assess the relevancy of the hold to the play. The result is that most holding calls on running plays come out a bit late, and can be officiated with a degree of inconsistency.

This is a good no-call. It is crystal clear that Baron Browning (56) gets held and his progress materially impacted by left guard Aaron Banks. But while by rule this could have been called, it would have been a very ticky-tacky foul. The officials are far better off letting that play go.

This is a bad call. Justin Strnad (40) does grab the arm of Oren Burks, but watching the play you cannot see any impeding of Burks progress. Burks sheds Strnad and is in excellent position to clean up the tackle. The officials should have let this play go as well.

One obviously controversial holding call was the placement of the holding flag on Mike McGlinchey’s hold near the end of the first half. The covering official called it in the field of play, and he clearly held in the endzone (which would be a safety) and probably in the field of play. This was clearly the correct call from the officials. Given the choice of holding in the endzone or out of it, officials should be completely and unambiguously certain that the penalty was in the endzone before ruling a safety penalty.

Holds, like all blocking fouls, are very tough to call. The players are fast, and the rulebook is convoluted about what is permissible and when. Also, depending on the play, blocking fouls frequently involve line play, and officials key assignments pays the least amount of attention to line play. Calling a blocking foul can often be instinctual, and sometimes the action doesn’t justify the flag. A great example of this happened in the first quarter with 6:24 left, when Patrick Holt threw a flag for an illegal block in the back by George Kittle (probably – it could have been holding is what he thought he saw), but then he (or replay official Tyler Cerimeli) thought better of it, and decided to not call the penalty. This is a good call, and one that I agree with entirely. Watching the play live I thought that’s a flag, and then watching the resulting action and the replay I decided it was not one and should have been picked up. Replay is really nice for helping smooth over those borderline calls, and its good when officials are willing to pick up flags they had thrown.

Preventative Officiating

There are a lot of penalties that might not really impact the game, or that are so subjective that it can be hard to articulate a clear standard to both teams. Illegal formation, illegal formation, illegal shifts, hands to the face, offensive and defensive pass interference are all plausible candidates, but the most recurring are personal fouls after the play is over. There are different ways for officials to manage a game, especially with regards to these calls. One school of thought is to throw a flag early on to establish what level of play is acceptable. The upside is it generally clears up conduct before the flag decides the game. The downside is that leads to more penalties than probably necessary. The other school of thought is to warn the team of borderline conduct and then throw flags afterwards. The advantage of this is potentially fewer flags, but there are two serious disadvantages. First, it can put the officials into the position of needing to penalize conduct late that is little different from conduct that wasn’t penalized early – and no one wants late flags deciding games. Second, it more easily allows emotions to run wild and games to get out of control, while also potentially increasing risks to player safety. Each different officiating crew needs to develop their own philosophy on how to deal with borderline calls and how to proactively officiate using that philosophy.

The Hochuli crew had an early decision to make with regards to personal foul flags. With only six minutes of game time elapsed, Eyioma Uwazurike threw San Francisco offensive lineman Jake Brendel down after the play was over. I would have liked a quick flag for a personal foul. It also would have fit the situation nicely, as the result of the play was a first down at the 6 so the actual penalty yardage was going to be fairly inconsequential. The no penalty isn’t incorrect, but its passive officiating. This became important because there were two other plays later in the game that easily could have drawn flags and weren’t penalized, the last one almost erupting into a fight. The game then got chippy in the 4th quarter, with other aggressive behavior after three other plays going unpenalized, though these were more minor aggressions. The officials also did not go “Alert” throughout any of this. Frankly I think they let the game get out of control and invited fighting which fortunately did not occur.

Shawn Hochuli has a reputation for throwing a lot of flags. However, in this game his crew was clearly reluctant to penalize. Greg Bradley missed two different offensive pass interferences, including on the San Francisco’s touchdown. Patrick Holt missed the defensive offsides right before the end of the game. Holt and Hochuli combined to miss the tripping call that the broadcast criticized them over. Passive officiating reigned on Sunday night.


This game was tricky because the officiating was inconsistent. At least the officials spotted the ball well. TV rules expert Terry McAulay criticized the officials rulings during the broadcast several times. The officials generally called a very loose game, but they also called some incredibly ticky-tacky penalties. They missed a blatant call on a touchdown. It’s always a bad week when that happens. However, I have seen a lot of good officials have games like this, and I saw some other things that I did really like.

While the Broncos were penalized less than in previous weeks, I am growing concerned about the current coaching staff’s discipline. Tempers got hot this game, and while in week two I didn’t see evidence of hot tempers, there was certainly a bit in week one. Considering that these were non-rival games, I worry about player conduct in other games.