Its the end of the season. The players are banged up, but hopefully the officials are all in peak form. The crew communication and synergy is unlikely to ever get better. So how good were Shawn Hochuli and his crew?
End of Season Officiating
Week 18 always has interesting dynamics. A lot of teams are resting starters, other teams have meaningless games, and a few teams have intense, playoff-impacting games. The NFL does not assign the best crews to the biggest games in-season. Even if they wanted to, all crews have newer and weaker officials rotate on periodically between seasons, so its not obvious what the NFL would look for when trying to put together the best in-season crew (the highest rated official average, the highest weakest official, the highest rated referee etc).
The officials of Shawn Hochuli’s crew came into this game aware that their performance had playoff implications for them, even if the game on the field was one of 4 during the week that was irrelevant from a playoff perspective. This might provide a bit of motivation to call the best game possible, but honestly that is always the case. Regardless of how good or bad the game is, officiating it with full intensity until 0:00 is probably the third most essential attribute for successful officials.
Offensive Pass Interference
This game was a strange one for pass-interference. Davante Adams has always been one of those players whose physicality rides the line between pass interference and innocent play. If the officials decide that they are going to draw the line on offensive pass interference fairly mildly and let most calls go, then it was fine to let the borderline Adams calls go. But then it was bad to call the Sutton OPI. While it was different covering officials on the borderline Adams OPI’s and the Sutton called one, this situation had the foul stench of inconsistency. I was disappointed to see that from the officials.
Block in the Back
Riley Moss was called for a block in the back on a punt return late in the game, on a play where he flattened Vegas gunner DJ Turner from behind (admittedly with a mild block). This was the only time that a block in the back was called this year in a Denver Broncos game, and it was pretty cut and dry. It almost certainly impacted the play, and it was a hit completely and totally from the back. If this is going to be the new standard for block in the back penalties, its certainly easy to enforce. This was the most egregious block in the back in a Broncos game all year, so there is some solid poetic justice in it being the only called foul.
This week saw only one bad call – an egregious missed hold by Las Vegas Raiders TE Zach Gentry against Jonathon Cooper near the end of the game. There were four questionable calls (three OPIs – two on Adams that went uncalled and the one on Sutton). The officials had inconsistency with their forward progress rulings and whistle speeds – several times they blew running plays dead as soon as a runner was in the hands of a defender, and other times they let swarmed runners get taken to the ground. However, while I disliked the whistle inconsistency, I loved the spotting of the ball in this game.
For possibly the first time all year I liked every spot in the game, and I would definitely be interested in seeing short wings Patrick Holt and Tim Podraza work in the playoffs (so far neither has an assignment). I will pick one nit with referee Shawn Hochuli. He announced that the block in the back would be a half the distance to the goal penalty. This was an incorrect announcement (it was a 10 yard penalty enforced from the 23 yard line). His game was better than the earlier Denver game he had, where he made some bizarre announcements, but his reckless speed makes me not want to see him in the playoffs.
I will have a few more articles to end the season – looking at Denver and league stats, as well as the officials that I had praised and shamed and how that compared to the NFLs playoff assignments. Hopefully next year there will be some Broncos playoff games to review the officiating of. In the meantime, officiating questions or suggestions to me are always welcome.