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After Further Review: Denver Broncos Officiating Breakdown for Week 11

Breaking down the rules and the officiating calls for the Week 11 Sunday Night Football win for the Denver Broncos over the Minnesota Vikings.

Minnesota Vikings v Denver Broncos Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

A week with only one first down from penalties, and only ten total calls. Things look good on paper, but the details show a more complicated game from a rules perspective between the Denver Broncos and Minnesota Vikings last week.

Kareem Jackson Hits High

Jackson has been suspended for a hit in the first quarter that did not get flagged. This should have been penalized during the game, though I would have argued against ejection for the hit. I noticed another occasion during the game where Jackson tried to launch high. In the second time, the runner rotated away from Jackson, and so Jackson launched into the bottom of his shoulder. It was inconsequential to the player and game, but showed Jackson making dangerous decisions. I generally am pretty indifferent to league discipline – the job of officials is to make the games the safest fairest most fun product we can, and let the off field stuff take care of itself – but I really want Jackson to stop with the playstyle.

Running Back Initiated Helmet to Helmet Hits

There are multiple different rules on dangerous hits high. The most relevant and most enforced rule is against hits to the head or neck area of a defenseless player. This is the most common because being defenseless is really common and initiating contact high is a low bar – it does not have to be to the head, just the head area. This rule makes officiating much easier – we do not have to be certain of something very difficult to understand, but can instead mostly make the judgement on the basis of two things we do understand very well. It allows officials to be far more consistent, and to encourage more safety from players. However there are also other helmet hitting rules, most prominently the prohibition on the Helmet to Helmet hit, regardless of circumstances.

In this case, the hit has to be helmet to helmet, not just in the area, but it does not need the opponent to be defenseless. The league mostly does not like to see these penalties called, especially because they most often should be called by running backs. In this game, running backs from each team initiated helmet to helmet hits against opponents. The league frequently fines running backs for these hits, but generally wants them to go unflagged. I felt like the helmet to helmet from Broncos RB Samaje Perrine could have been so obvious to deserve a call, so I was glad that Minnesota had several hits similarly go uncalled later in the game.

Technically Penalties

Ron Tolberts crew was willing to throw numerous flags on fouls that barely impacted the game. Both of the holds on Dalton Risner (one was called on Bradbury mistakenly), the Bolles illegal formation, and the Pace defensive pass interference were all technically fouls, but ones I do not like seeing called. I am a big believer that you need to impede for pass interference or holding fouls, and declined fouls are often a sign that the foul should not have been called anyways. The pass interference on Pace is probably my perfect example of this – Sutton still caught the ball, so I would have liked to have seen the officials let it slide. It was also notable that the officials called some ticky-tacky penalties, because they also did not call some of the big calls that were available in the game.

Official Evaluation

Ron Tolbert and his crew were quite uneven this game, mostly because different parts of the crew were significantly better than others. The deep officials had a pretty solid game. A highlight would be the correct call on Suttons touchdown – that was not the hardest call ever, but his second foot was down only slightly before his arm out of bounds, and nicely covered. I also thought the officials in the offensive back field did a good job.

Referees and Umpires can do a lot of communication to decrease the chances of penalties, and I liked their work. Tolbert himself was not perfect, with calling a Dobbs sack intentional grounding a notable mistake (same outcome, but took more time). During the two hurried drives, umpire Barry Anderson was always ready to spot the ball. Its really hard for a 55 year old to keep up with NFL athletes, and he was smooth throughout. However, the judgement and spotting from the short wing officials was not what I would like. They made a number of poor spots (one overturned on a Denver challenge), were mostly slow to whistle forward progress (but inconsistent with this). They missed what I considered one of the more egregious penalties of the season, when Alex Singleton was not flagged for a personal foul when he hit high on a wrapped up runner on the play he injured Zach Allen. Its easy to not notice the officiating is poor when randomness fixes some of the errors (like calling a fumble when Perrine was down by contact before but it being irrelevant because the ball went out of bounds).

I marked five bad calls from the game, three benefitting Denver, and six questionable calls in the game with four benefiting Denver. While these numbers of bad and questionable calls are high, only one ended up being consequential. I have noticed bad officiating hurting the Broncos in several games, but against Minnesota I thought that the questionable calls ended up helping the Broncos. While wins are nice in Broncos country, it would have been nice to see a margin that helped keep the officials out of relevancy.