With all the talk about an emphasis on illegal contact and defensive holding calls this offseason, most people expected a rise in the amount of penalties called in the regular season.
Those predictions have come true. There have already been more illegal contact penalties than there were all of last season and games are seeing an average of 17 penalties, up from 14.7 last year. That rise has led to complaints from fans and players, but the NFL’s head of officiating doesn’t think that has led to a negative change in the games themselves.
“I’m certainly not surprised that fouls are up. … We’re in a good place,” NFL Vice President of Officiating Dean Blandino said, via the Associated Press. “I don’t see a diminished product on the field.”
You wouldn’t expect someone from the league to say anything different and Blandino points out that games are running a few minutes shorter on average despite the increase in flags.
If there’s a threat to the product on the field, it is the lack of consistency from game to game and, sometimes, play to play about what is a penalty. Those issues predate this season, but recent complaints from the league’s officials about Blandino’s office applauding calls behind the scenes and then publicly failing to back the officials have brought them back into focus.
One reasonably easy fix would be extending replay review to cover all calls on the field, something that would allow officials to throw flags on borderline plays and then rescind them when replays show that the play didn’t cross the line. It might take a bit longer, but it would be worth it for the increased credibility of the officials and decreased impact on games.