The ejection of a player by the officials is called disqualification (though the NFL rulebook is not perfectly consistent about this). There are a few rules for disqualification. Deliberately hitting a player or official outside of the legitimate football actions should result in disqualification. Multiple unsportsmanlike conduct fouls (generally for taunting), results in automatic disqualification. This is really important – and pretty unintuitive. A player can receive multiple unnecessary roughness fouls without disqualification, but multiple taunting penalties and they will be ejected. Finally, players who flagrantly foul should be disqualified.
In college football, targeting (a subtype of personal foul where the player initiates contact with the top of their helmet or to the head and neck area of a defenseless player) is an automatic disqualification, but this is not true in the NFL. However, the indicators for targeting are similar to those of a flagrant foul, and often the result will be the same at the NFL. For example, Kareem Jackson was disqualified for a flagrant foul against Washington TE Logan Thomas. He launched (left his feet to initiate contact high) against a defenseless player (defenseless players are fairly common in football – it means anyone with less ability to defend themselves than normal and includes anyone trying to catch, throw, or kick the ball, any runner in the grasp of an opponent, and anyone obviously out of the play among other criteria), and initiated helmet to helmet contact. This felt flagrant enough to me to justify ejection.
Anatomy of a Missed Call
It has been widely commented that the 2pt conversion attempt at the end of the game should have been flagged for Defensive Pass Interference. The commentators are right. Last week we talked about indicators of DPI, and this play had all of them. However, one thing that is really important to remember with DPI is angle. The broadcast camera angle on the Sutton attempt was very good for seeing that Suttons arm was restricted, that his momentum was shifted, and that all of it was early. Some officials had much worse angles of the play.
There are five officials watching routes on a pass play. They were positioned as shown in the diagram below. Official assignments follow offensive players and are keyed on the offensive formation. We also have keys for switching our assignments based on release, and good officiating crews will also adjust our assignments based on route tendencies of various players. So while I have a degree of certainty about what each official normally would be observing on this play, it is not absolute as to how the Brad Rogers crew would have set up their responsibilities and I see two different sets of likely possibilities.
The Best angle to see the DPI would have been halfway between the down judge and the side judge. Both the down judge and the side judge have good views of the DPI. The back judge and field judge both have terrible angles to view the DPI, and the line judge has a mediocre angle plus most of the field between him and the play.
The coverage responsibility for the down judge should have been running back Samaje Perrine (#25), plus monitoring the goal line for a Wilson scramble. Despite him having a good view of the pass, and being near it, he probably should not see the interference due to his other responsibilities. When Jerry Jeudy (#10) cut in at the snap, the normal officiating response would be for the side judge to cover the TE Trautman (#84), and hand off #10 to the back judge. #84 stayed on the right side of the play, so no further switch would be expected from the side judge. The back judge would normally then take #10, though with #10 moving towards the sideline and the deep crossing route of Burton (#20) , the back judge likely had to switch his focus to the end line, and by extension to #20. The field judge had the most straight forward assignment of covering Sutton (#14), while the line judge would follow #20 though he would probably snap over to #10 about the time #20 cuts in.
Sutton proceeded to cut away from the FJ and was interfered with in a way that the FJ has almost no ability to observe. So who should have assisted the FJ?
If the officials were covering the play as described above, it’s a mistake from the side judge. He is close enough to the pass, looking close enough to it that he should be able to see the ball come out, see the target, and adjust in time to see the DPI. Neither the BJ nor the DJ had a great synergy between making that call and their other assignments.
However, if for some reason the side judge and back judge did not switch responsibilities when #10 cut in immediately, then it’s a lot harder to make this call correctly. The Side judge would have followed #10 half way across the field, and then looks back to see four receivers coming at him, one of whom is relatively close to the end line (#20) . If he stayed with #10 too long, or if he saw the pass come out right as he snapped off #10 and thought it might be going to #84 or #25 he could have shifted his focus and missed the call.
So how should officials catch this missed call? The Side Judge has a real shot to make the call, and could have. Most of the time, the back judge and field judge would have decent angles. If the running back had stayed into block, there is a decent chance that the down judge could have helped. If the formation had been tweaked to have #25 on Wilsons left instead of on his right, the down judge would have been in a much better position to make the call (though the back judge would have been in a far worse position to help out).
The point of this explanation is not to justify the missed call. Instead its to explain how the particulars of this call (and unfortunately a number of other DPIs) get missed.
I was really impressed with Brad Rogers and his crew. The spotting of the ball was consistently good, they called relatively few penalties while keeping the game controlled and moving. I liked the way they handled the Jackson scuffle and ejection. I really enjoyed the work of umpire Ramon George during the hurry up. I counted two missed holds by each team, and one called hold by each team that I disagreed with. The DPI miss is bad but added with the holds and that’s only seven missed plays, split nearly evenly between the teams. The unfortunate thing is that one of the errors played such a large role in determining the end of the game. Still, even with that miss, I would be happy to see Rogers and his crew in future weeks.