Lions already propose expanded replay for officiating

PHOENIX — Changes could be afoot for the NFL rule book. Starting with what is a catch and what is pass interference.

Two plays in the postseason have made those hot subjects, NFL football operations chief Troy Vincent said Thursday. That really hit home when Vincent heard a caller to a talk radio show suggest fans needed to watch games with a rule book at their side.

“No question this and coaches' challenges will be the topics,” Vincent said, looking ahead to next month's discussions by the league's influential competition committee.

The Detroit Lions, feeling burned by a non-interference call in a playoff loss to Dallas, already have proposed expanding the use of instant replay for coaches' challenges. Dean Blandino, the NFL's officiating director, said the competition committee will look into adding to what calls are reviewable, as it does each year.

That committee, which makes recommendations to the 32 owners on rules changes, also will re-examine the “process of the catch” rule that cost the Cowboys' Dez Bryant in a postseason loss to Green Bay.

Blandino, who like Vincent is on the powerful committee, said its members “look at any situation … any time a team brings up an issue that has to be looked into.”

A contraction of the massive rule book also will be considered, but Vincent warned that for any proposed changes, every conceivable effect needs to be examined.

“How do we create that culture for everyone of clarity and consistency?” Vincent said, noting it's a major challenge. “That's where the wisdom comes in — how we got to here, and how do we adjust to keep this or this from happening as a result (of changes)?”

Public consternation over officiating this season became an uproar in the playoffs after the non-call in Detroit-Dallas, and the replay reversal in Dallas-Green Bay.

Blandino said Thursday the officiating rate of accuracy was on par with last season, although he didn't indicate what that rate was. He noted the league is “keenly aware” of the impact an officiating mistake can have on the outcome of games.

Which could lead to expanded use of replay reviews, although the league is loath to add too much and slow the games to a crawl.

“Absolutely there are discussions going back to last season,” Blandino said, “and adding to the list of reviewable plays. We've stayed away from areas that involved subjective judgments: holding, pass interference. As technology has improved, all that begs the question, 'Can we eliminate some mistakes that happen in a game?'

“There are several proposals from the clubs and they will be discussed with the competition committee.”

Patriots coach Bill Belichick previously has suggested everything be challengeable, but the coaches still would be limited to two (or if successful on both, three) challenges.

“We'll do extensive review of film and make a proposal on any changes,” Blandino said.

The owners will gather here in March for what are likely to be very active meetings.

Vincent and Blandino indicated adding an eighth on-field official isn't likely. But with the increase in spread offenses and the pro game moving from run-oriented to highly pass-oriented, it also will continue to be considered.

The problem with an additional official is there's no certainty it would solve any officiating problems, and the number of flags thrown easily could increase with another person blowing whistles.

Penalties were up two per game in 2014, which doesn't seem like much considering the heavy emphasis on defensive holding calls. After a preseason and early season in which teams struggled to avoid flags, those calls diminished as the players and coaches adapted.

The length of games decreased for the first time since 2008, which Blandino attributed to wireless communications among officiating crew members, and league headquarters consulting with referees on video replays.

Getting back to that fan's reaction to the Cowboys-Packers game, Vincent noted that whenever there were difficult calls in the past, “we expanded the rule book.”

“That sometimes made it difficult for the officials to articulate what the rule is,” Vincent said. “Football should be simple.”

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