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Official Review: A Look At The Performance Of NFL Referees

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Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images.
Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images.


Even though the NFL referee lockout is in the distant mirror, this year's performance from several officiating crews leaves many players, coaches and fans wondering if the replacement officials are still patrolling fields. 

Complaining about the performance of officials is just something that comes with the game, but this season, there have been many controversial rulings which will stir debate in the offseason over potential changes. Santana Moss most recently questioned the consistency of calls made by officials. Sunday night's debacle is just the most recent head scratching gaffe made by NFL officials, but here are some ways that the NFL can ensure the officials are making the best calls.

1. Allow Penalties To Be Challenged/Reviewed

This, perhaps, is the most glaring change that needs to be made. Between the questionable Ahmad Brooks/Drew Brees roughing the passer penalty, protection of quarterbacks and defenseless receivers, and blatant non-calls that can affect the outcome of games, more checks and balances need to be put in place in order to promote consistency. The NFL is played at an extremely fast pace, and there's no way officials can get every call right. But if player safety and the outcomes of games are on the line, then there is no reason these plays shouldn't be reviewed.

How many times is a flag thrown for when a player was tripped before he accidentally hits a quarterback late or a brutal-looking clean hit? On the flipside of that, how many times isn't a flag thrown for unseen pass interference, facemasks or illegal hits?

The only way to remedy this situation is by allowing personal fouls such as roughing the passer to be challenged. The consistency of roughing the passer penalties have widely been discussed over the last few seasons, and this is a good fix. This will still allow for quarterbacks to be protected properly under the rules, but will weed out calls that have been reinforcing the notion of babying quarterbacks. By having these calls reviewed, officials can slow down the game and see if a play abides by or breaks the current NFL rules, allowing for more accurate calls.

2. Coaches Should Be Punished For Incorrect Use Of The Challenge Flag

Last year, Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz’ misuse of the challenge flag ultimately cost his team a win. He challenged a play that was already being reviewed; therefore, the play was deemed unreviewable. The NFL has since fixed that bogus rule, but challenge flags continue to get tossed around for plays that are unreviewable.

Recently, Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano challenge a close field goal. The ball went over an upright, and Schiano tried challenging whether it went through, but regardless, the play is not reviewable. Instead, all it does is stall the game and allow offenses and defenses to adjust to what they see on the field. If a coach throws a challenge flag on a play that already is being reviewed, nothing should happen, but if they challenge a play that is unreviewable, delaying the game, they should be charged with either a timeout or, perhaps, a penalty. 

3. Officials Need To Communicate More Effectively

Whether it is explaining a call to a player, coach or the fans, referees have simply dropped the ball this season. In a bizarre ending between the Carolina Panthers and New England Patriots, an official threw a flag on what looked like a defensive pass interference or defensive holding, but the flag was soon picked up. The head official simply said there is no foul on the play, and the game ended, where the officials were soon followed by a herd of angry Patriots led by Tom Brady.

After the game, official Clete Blakeman clarified why the flag was picked up. Even though the call was wrong, he provided an explanation, which is fine, but is something that should have immediately been communicated. Not explaining such an important call, especially on the last play of a primetime game, is unacceptable. The following week, a similar play happened in Miami involving the same player, and again, a flag was picked up without an explanation.

Instead of simply stating a call, confirming, overturning or letting calls stand, the NFL should enforce a rule where officials have to provide a clear and thorough explanation of penalties (and non-penalties if a flag was thrown even if there is no foul) and challenged/reviewed calls. This will allow players, coaches and fans to understand exactly what did or didn't happen on a play, as well as gain a thorough understanding of what constitutes things such as catches, roughing the passer, pass interference, intentional grounding and defensive holding. Too many controversial calls are made on big plays without any explanation whatsoever. Officials need to clarify and provide grounds for these important calls.

There is a legitimate argument that all of these replays and reviews have slowed down the game and that human error is a part of it. Unfortunately, with all the recent rule changes surrounding player safety, protecting the quarterback, etc., there has been little consistency by the officials. In order to fix this problem, officials have to be held accountable for their actions in game. These errors need to be fixed, not just acknowledged in a statement released after the game where the damage has already been done. There will certainly be some changes this offseason, but players, coaches and fans are hoping they're the right ones.