The Curious Case of Pass Interference

We all know the rule for defensive pass interference. A defensive back makes illegal contact with a receiver going for a reception without actually making a play on the football. The result is the ball being placed at the spot of the foul and an automatic first down for the offense. Pretty easy to understand, right? So, what’s the problem?

Defensive pass interference is a killer penalty. When called, it can make or break an NFL game, depending on the score and the spot of the foul, which is where the the big debate begins. The ball being placed at the spot of the foul is arguably one of the most bogus rules in the NFL, so much so that an NFL team suggested a possible change to the college version of the penalty.

At the annual NFL owner meetings, the New York Jets proposed a rule change the would make defensive pass interference calls a 15 yard penalty in lieu of the ball being placed spot of the foul. If you watch college football, you know that this is how they do it there, and it’s been relatively successful thus far. Unfortunately, the Jets’ proposal did not gain enough support to be put to a vote, so it will be status quo for the defensive pass interference penalty next season.

While I’m all for changing the pass interference penalty, there are fair points to be made on both sides of the argument. The big reason I want to see the rule changed is the inconsistency of referees. How many times have we seen light, soft contact on a deep ball or a pass that wasn’t catchable turn into a huge gain or become first and goal on the one yard line? If it’s blatant, then by all means call it, but the officiating is too inconsistent and it ends up costing teams in a big way.

Another reason I’m for changing the rule is that it will help defenses out more. In recent years, we’ve seen rule changes that heavily benefit the offense, from not being able to touch the quarterback to not being able to make any kind of contact on a receiver, even when it’s within five yards. Going from the spot of the foul to 15 yards gives a little relief to defenses, but it’s still not that much.

On the other side of the spectrum, people will argue that changing the rule will just lead to defensive backs intentionally fouling when they get beat deep and taking the 15 yards. While I understand that it’s not a 40+ yard gain, 15 yards and an automatic first down is still a steep price for defenses to pay. You can only afford to take so many penalties at that point.

If the rule is not going to be changed, then maybe the NFL should consider possible video review on controversial pass interference calls. No one will be a fan of more long video reviews, but the league needs to do something that will satisfy both parties and ensure that games are decided by it’s players, and not it’s referees. Extra video review seems like the best option to ensure that at this point.

For the foreseeable future, the defensive pass interference penalty will stay the same, but for how much longer? There are definitely rules in the NFL in need of change that have priority over this one, but the New York Jets took an important step towards the change of the one the NFL’s most polarizing penalties.


Photo: New York Daily News

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