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After Further Review: Broncos officiating breakdown for Week 1

Breaking down the officiating calls for the Week 1 game between the Denver Broncos and Las Vegas Raiders.

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Here are the officiating highlights from the Denver Broncos and Las Vegas Raiders game.

Helmet to Helmet Hits

There were two hits from Denver safeties that were flagged for personal fouls. The first was on Justin Simmons in the first quarter and the second was at the end of the fourth by Kareem Jackson. Helmet hits are incredibly frustrating, risky, and from defenders generally easy to call. The one from Simmons was a classic example of the folly of the rule and how it applies to officials. He did lead with his helmet, and I would have not hesitated to flag him. However, he hit a glancing blow into the hip of the player. He put himself in a moderate amount of risk for injury and his conduct had virtually no additional risk to Garoppolo. As the rulebook stands and is currently interpreted, this was a good call, but its also not really advancing safety. I would prefer more context, and for the league to let this call go.

The hit by Jackson was far worse than the hit by Simmons. I was surprised that Jackson was not ejected.

Illegal Formation Shenanigans

In the 3rd quarter with 2:18 left, the Raiders were called for an illegal formation. This whole play was a mess. A legal formation requires exactly one thing – seven members on the line of scrimmage. Functionally, WRs normally tell the wing official if they are off or on, and the wing will confirm it and call the formation accordingly. The officials will force them to make corrections, but only when they are egregiously ambiguous.

On this play two WRs communicated with the officials, though they used non-standard signals. Two different Raiders went in motion. The end result was apparently too cute for the officials. This play got flagged, but I noticed a few other times where Vegas tried to run concepts around convincing the Broncos that eligible players were ineligible by position. Designing plays to try to lawyer the rules into an unfair advantage is bad for the game and officials should penalize McDaniels and regularly until they knock it off. I liked this illegal formation for that reason alone.


BeccaLu wrote last week:

My question has to do with the line between offensive or defensive pass interference. I hear announcers who disagree with such a call, explain that the two players were merely involved in normal hand fighting. But doesn’t one player have to engage in hand fighting first? Why isn’t that player flagged for a PI? There would be no need, for instance, for a receiver to push a corner’s hand off, if the refs weren’t allowing his hands ON. Some corners are allowed to grab and hold, while being labeled “physical.” But that seems like they’re getting away with cheating. Can you explain what refs look for to determine PI calls?

Happy to answer a really good question, and there were really good examples in this weeks game. So first of all, putting your hands on another player is not a foul. Using your hands to impede that player would be a foul for illegal contact, holding, or pass interference. Any player athletic enough to keep a hand on the opponent while not impeding their play (or only doing it to a very minor extent) should be allowed to play that way. Knocking a players hands down is also legal most of the time. However, if the ball is in flight, it should be flagged pass interference. These answers should illustrate the challenge of receivers vs cornerbacks – the real issue is not contact but impeding the opponent. Most cornerbacks will try to put hands on wide receivers in man coverage, and that’s fine, as long as it doesn’t prevent the wide receiver from running their route. Cornerbacks are also allowed to prevent the wide receiver from running their desired route, but only by being in the way, not by impeding contact. Defenders preventing routes is almost never flagged, because it requires insane athleticism or luck. What is called (though not often enough) is when offensive players prevent defenders from their routes through pick plays.

As for how do officials determine PI calls – really there are three big things for me. First, we look for unexplained movement. Players slowing down unexpectedly, or getting moved off their direction of travel. Shoulders dipping or flying out (a running player will need to raise their shoulder for almost any attempt to catch the football) are big. Ignoring the rest of the body, shoulders and hips tell most of the story of illegal contact and pass interference. A good example at the end of the third quarter was the play right before the Jackson interception. Surtain arrives before the ball and is all over Davante Adams. But if you just watch Adams, you notice that his momentum does not change. This is a classic correct no call.

Another thing we look for is arm locks and single arms in the air. A few plays before the play above, Surtain was called for DPI for one of these on Davante Adams. Watching the play, Adams tried to catch the ball and only one arm came up, as Surtain was over the other. Most of the time we can see this from shoulder action as well – one shoulder goes up and the other see-saws down. One hand up and the other covered by an opponent is an easy pass interference call.

The final thing we use for pass interference calls is preparation via film study. Especially in the NFL, and as the season goes on, we will have a lot of film of different players and how they like to approach situations. We can talk through the styles of various players as a crew, and if possible talk to the head coaches before the game about our expectations and standards. With pass interference, most of the challenge is deciding what level of impeding we will tolerate. Unfortunately, the league has seen numerous times over the last ten years where either the league office, or various crews have dramatically shifted this standard silently mid-season and with poor results.

Thanks BeccaLu for the question. Please feel free to keep sending questions by email or in the comments.

Official Evaluation

The officiating was below what I would expect and the crew did not seem ready for the season. I liked the job that Referee Bill Vinovich did announcing calls, but felt that the crew did not have a solid feel for each other. The holding calls were pretty inconsistent, but went both ways inconsistently. The deep officials did a bad job of preventative officiating and allowed both receivers and the secondaries to engage in far too much contact – leading to extra penalties. The ultimate example of this was the Jackson interception. Raider fans may rightly bemoan that Alex Singleton committed uncalled defensive pass interference. Broncos fans would be correct to note that Austin Hooper also should have been called for illegal contact. Multiple fouls uncalled on big plays leads to even more frustration and shows the officials letting the game get away from themselves. This was also a series that had already seen four called penalties.

The worst part of the officiating was spotting the ball. Most egregious was the awkward third quarter spot on a 3rd down attempt that appeared to set the raiders up for a 4th and one, before having the booth silently overturn the spotting on the field and grant Vegas the first down. This embarrassing play was only the most notable of many spots that floated , especially on passes over the middle.