The NFL’s owners approved adding pass interference to the list of items that can be reviewed on instant replay, but they may not have thought through all the potential consequences.
One such consequence could be additional offensive pass interference calls on offensive players who are blocking more than one yard downfield. Most people assume that offensive pass interference reviews will be about receivers pushing off before catching the ball, but former NFL referee and NBC analyst Terry McAulay wrote on Twitter that he thinks some run-pass option plays will now have offensive pass interference calls on offensive linemen, who start the play like they are run blocking, block more than a yard downfield, and then are technically committing offensive pass interference when the ball is thrown.
“Now that PI is reviewable, here’s an RPO that I would expect to be reversed to OPI after review,” McAulay wrote with a video on Twitter. “Ball snapped at the 1. The RG blocks the LB ever so slightly more than 1 yd downfield (contact in the EZ) just before the pass is in flight. . . . I could see the defensive coach challenging this play.”
The new replay rule actually has the potential to be even more intrusive than McAulay suggests: Every touchdown is automatically reviewed, which means the replay assistant will have to watch every passing touchdown to see if anyone was blocking more than one yard downfield. Will touchdowns get overturned to offensive pass interference because of a block two yards downfield that didn’t appear to have any impact on the play?
It’s important that the league think through all these possibilities and, if necessary, revise the rule at the May league meeting. One revision could be to make offensive pass interference reviewable only for contact that begins after the ball is in the air.
Heading into last month’s league meeting, it was unclear which of the many replay proposals would be approved. It’s possible that the league rushed to approve this one, without considering every possibility.