When Pete Carroll challenges a pass-interference call, technically he throws his red flag on the field. Figuratively speaking, though, it’s more like he’s throwing it against a wall.
With the NFL allowing coaches to dispute PI calls this season, the Seahawks coach has been trying to figure out what might stick. So far, the answer is “not much” — but that’s a good thing for pro football.
In the fourth quarter of last season’s NFC championship game, Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman drilled Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis well before the ball arrived. The no-call was universally panned, and likely cost New Orleans a trip to the Super Bowl.
This prompted NFL brass to make pass interference challengeable in 2019, which has turned the gridiron into a giant craps table. And to this point, most rolls have come up snake eyes.
Per Kevin Seifert of ESPN, only one of the 21 PI challenges since Week 3 has resulted in an overturned call. On the season, seven of 40 pass-interference-related reviews have been reversed.
The referees are basically saying that if the contact is anything shy of police-report-worthy, they’re not changing anything. Carroll is starting to learn this.
Five times this season, Carroll has challenged a PI call, and only once has it been productive. That came in Week 2, when officials decided Steelers safety Terrell Edmunds did, in fact, interfere with Tyler Lockett on a 38-yard pass play. Other than that, he’s whiffed — perhaps most saliently against the Rams in Week 4, when anybody with a pupil and retina could see there was no offensive interference by L.A. receiver Brandin Cooks.
By the sound of things, though, that’s not going to stop Pete from whipping out his oh-so-popular challenge flag. Considering pass interference is one of the most subjective calls in sports, he figures the potential reward outweighs the risk.
“We’re going to push it and see if we can figure it out and make some better sense of these opportunities,” Carroll said. “I’m obviously willing to do that.”
But is that really good for the game? Just “pushing it” to see what you can get? If we’re talking about whether a runner was down before a fumble, or whether the ball hit the ground on an interception, there is a certain degree of objectivity. But unless it’s something resembling that Robey-Coleman hit on Lewis, PI calls are basically inkblots — interpreted differently by all who see it.
This is why pass interference wasn’t challengeable before. It would be like challenging holding. It’s going to happen to some degree on almost every play, but like driving over the speed limit, it won’t be penalized unless it’s egregious. What most coaches are doing — including Carroll, it seems — is trying to get guys busted for driving 64 in a 60. That’s not how the game is played.
But this is what happens when you let one bad call (or no-call, in this case) change the protocol. The kind of play in that Rams-Saints game would happen all the time. Would it generate 100-decibels worth of boos when it did? Yes. But that was the human-error element of the game that coaches, players and fans had to deal with.
Imagine if there was a key missed traveling call in the closing seconds of Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Would refs start going to the tape every time it looked like there was a third step? How about a clear strike three that was called ball four and walked in the winning run in a World Series game. Might MLB start reviewing balls and strikes in the ninth inning? Would it activate the robot umps?
Sure, these examples might be hyperbole, but you get the point. Sometimes you can go too far in trying to get it right.
So good on the refs for letting coaches know that their PI challenges won’t likely be fruitful. Guys such as Carroll will keep trying to push it, but it’s best for football if the officials aren’t pushovers.