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After Further Review: Kicking off the Broncos season

Each week during the season, I evaluate the officiating during the last Denver Broncos game from the perspective of a long time official.

Los Angeles Rams v Denver Broncos Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Welcome back to After Further Review. Each week during the season, I evaluate the officiating during the last Denver Broncos game from the perspective of a long time official. While we are excited for next week and the start of the season, I wanted to talk a bit about officiating philosophy, officiating errors, and this column.

Fostering a competitive environment

The first thing to understand about officiating, is that it is not the job of the officials to enforce the rules. Instead, it is our job to foster a safe and fair competitive environment. The rules of the game are our best tool for accomplishing this. However, the letter of the rule does not and cannot win over our larger priorities. Mediocre officials need to know the rules inside and out.

Good officials need to know how to pay attention when the league tells us how they want the rules interpreted and applied, what the general officiating philosophy is and how it should be applied, and be able to do all of this fairly to each and every player and coach and regardless of anything they may say or do to make our jobs harder. It is a tough job, and I really believe that most officials do an extraordinary job.

One of my goals of this column is to help share officiating mentalities, and peel back some of the curtain to show off some of this mostly hidden element of football. While I have connections to a lot of insider information about league officiating, I will not ever use any of this information during the season for this column. Last year I did the same, and after the season was able to compare my takes to many league ones. I was comfortable with how my takes stood up to the far more in-depth and rigorous scrutiny present in the league office.

Analyzing Broncos officiating

The second goal of this column is to enjoy Broncos officiating and the mistakes along the way. I view officiating mistakes as typically falling into three categories. Understanding the different categories, and how officials react to the different kinds of errors can be very helpful, because we respond to them very differently.

The overwhelming majority of officiating errors are errors of perspective. These are simple – the official has the wrong viewpoint and cannot make a great call. We try to mitigate errors of perspective in a few ways. NFL Officials combine thousands of games of experience, regular practice, and superb fitness to put themselves consistently in the best position to rule on likely elements of a play. We follow officiating mechanics books (sometimes unwritten), that are designed to give us the best perspective possible, and adapt these to our crews, the offenses we are officiating and the coaches tendencies each week.

Officials need the thousands of contests of experience to develop superb abilities to be in the perfect spot to make calls, while at the same time needing to move down the field nearly as fast as professional athletes. In college and the NFL we use instant replay to supplement our perspectives, because it is an invaluable addition. Any time instant replay is used, it should be to correct an error of perspective.

Errors of process are where the official is in the right place to make a call, is fully empowered to make the call, needs to make the call, and fails. These are egregious errors. Having these on your record as an official prevents you from advancing, and generally more than one gets you fired. The most obvious error of process is mistaking what down it is, and either depriving a team of 4 downs on a series or giving them an extra down. Every member of the officiating team has specific equipment to assist in keeping track of the down, and every member is responsible for doing so. For an official to mess that up is absolutely unforgivable, and especially so because it is a dead ball officiating responsibility. If the crew needs to take more time to figure out the answer, they always can. Instances where officials do mess this up are rare, and almost always involve penalty enforcement.

Other errors of process are more common because they happen during a live ball. Numerous safety penalties should be caught every time, especially if they happen to the kicker, punter, or quarterback as these players have one official dedicated to watching the interactions, the players are comparatively slow and some of the penalties have clear lines and little place for judgment.

The most interesting errors, and the ones that I will focus upon the most this year, are errors of judgment. These are places where the official is probably in a good enough position to make a call, but has to decide where to draw the line on player conduct. Most of the time pass-interference and holding situations are judgment calls. There are clear player interactions that comply with the rules, and there are clear ones that do not, but there is not a bright line between the two.

It is very tempting to attempt to use instant replay to correct errors of judgment, but this is absolutely the wrong thing to do, and has consistently led to worse outcomes. There are three reasons for this. First having two people try to make the same judgment call decreases consistency rather than increases it. Second, instant replay can slow things down and views the play out of context, both of which distort perspective and create inconsistencies. Finally, by its nature instant replay does not have the ability to improve judgment – instead it replaces one judge with another.

Here to have fun and enjoy the game

Because my primary goal with after further review is entertainment, I review most plays through only a few casual views and generally of broadcast television angles. This allows me to assess almost all officiating with one notable exception. This casual style does not give me any ability to assess defensive holding away from close line play. To get a real ability to assess defensive holding and its fairness in a contest, I would have to watch each passing play an additional five times for a contest. This would more than double the amount of film study it takes for this column, and the impact would only be an increased ability assess a relatively rare penalty. If there ends up being a game where defensive holding ends up being essential to the outcome, I may be willing to dig into that particular game. But unless there is an extraordinary reason to change this policy, After Further Review will entirely ignore defensive holding (excluding close line play) on passing plays.

If there is anything you would like to have focused on this year, or any questions you want answered feel free to comment below or email from my profile. I am looking forward to a great season.