NFL insider notes: Run of blatantly bad calls may force changes, MVP race goes down to the wire, more from Week 15

The past few years there’s been very little interest from NFL owners and the league office itself to have either a sky judge or allow coaches the ability to challenge or review even more plays.

As of last week, the average game time in the 2022 season sat at a cool 3 hours and 2 minutes. It’s a tidy time the league is quite proud of, and additional reviews would disrupt that sort of progress.

Bad calls happen. Missed calls happen. Human error is part of this game we love.

But resist as it might, the NFL may have to cave to some greater review or challenge system if these errors continue in huge, standalone games where the entire country is watching.

The officials missed obvious defensive pass interference in Sunday night’s Giants-Commanders game on Curtis Samuel. That was preceded by an extremely controversial illegal formation penalty on Terry McLaurin when he appeared to communicate with the official before the play.

The league made referee John Hussey available to a pool reporter after the game, but Hussey could not speak for the other official.

In the Patriots-Raiders game earlier in the day, a video review of Keelan Cole’s late-game touchdown catch allowed the call on the field to stand even though Cole’s foot appeared to land out of bounds. Walt Anderson, the NFL’s SVP of officiating, told a pool reporter there that it was “not clear and obvious” Cole’s foot was on the white.

These major calls came a day after a difficult game for the officiating crew in the Colts-Vikings matchup on Saturday. And it came a week after a roughing-the-passer call on Sunday Night Football between the Chargers and Dolphins that NFL EVP Troy Vincent openly disagreed with.

Vincent said last week at the owners meetings that there will be a “healthy discussion” this spring with the competition committee on potentially opening up plays that can be reviewed, whether it comes in the form of a challenge or a sky judge.

“When you go to replay, you can find a foul. That is one thing I’ve learned is you can find a foul,” Vincent said last week. “A flag coming from New York or coming from the so-called sky judge. I don’t think that’s in the best interest of the game. The game should be called on the field. It’s played on the field. Replay is there to assist the clear and obvious. I think chasing perfection is a dangerous place to go for the National Football League and for officiating.”

Indeed, there are obvious issues with making too many plays reviewable, or where those reviews take place, or just simply taking a game played at a break-neck speed and slowing it down frame-by-frame.

Roughing calls are down significantly from last year, but the bad calls stand out. The league won’t go back to reviewing defensive pass interference, but gosh, the officials seemed to get it wrong Sunday night.

I can’t say I have much in the way of solutions at this moment. But I feel confident that if these calls persist in marquee matchups, change will be forced.

Campbell, Taylor proving patience with coaches can be a virtue

Dan Campbell and Zac Taylor are shining examples of why it sometimes pays to be a little more patient — or a little less impatient — in the NFL.

In the week after the league’s presentation to owners about how much money they’re burning to fire coaches, Campbell and Taylor showed once again that trusting the process has its upside.

Campbell began his tenure 3-13-1 in 2021 during an obvious rebuilding season for the Lions. That record dropped to 4-19-1 this season, though, when the Lions started 1-6 and fired a position coach and traded away a top tight end.

Taylor has admitted that he was in a fortunate situation. He started 6-25-1 in his first two seasons in Cincinnati and entered the 2021 season as much on the hot seat as any other coach in the league. He even admitted after the playoff win against the Raiders that “if I coached at any other organization in football, I probably wouldn’t be here right now in the third year.”

Taylor of course got the Bengals to the Super Bowl last year and may well do it again this season. Campbell has his Lions at 7-7 with a realistic shot at making the playoffs in the final three games of the season.

Breaking down the tape of wild final play in Patriots-Raiders

Despite returning the lateral 48 yards for the game-winning touchdown, Raiders edge rusher Chandler Jones traveled the second-shortest distance of any Raiders player on that play, according to Next Gen Stats.

When I broke down the tape of the dizziest ending in recent NFL regular-season history, I found Jones traveled a total distance of just 71.1 yards on the game-winning play. Only defensive tackle Bilal Nichols covered less ground, a measly 64.74 yards on the play.

How’d it happen? Lined up as right defensive end, Jones lined up against left tackle Trent Brown. As Mac Jones handed off to Rhamondre Stevenson, Jones paused his pursuit. Then, as Stevenson cut inside, Jones made a futile attempt at the tackle that would have ended regulation.

Guard Michael Onwenu came to finish off Jones as Stevenson scampered down the field. But Onwenu would make the crucial error of not remaining on top of Jones for the entirety of the play. He allowed Jones to rise to his feet like so many bit characters allowed Michael Myers to do in the Halloween series.

As Jakobi Meyers yeeted the lateral back to Mac Jones standing at the 42-yard-line, Chandler Jones was more than 8 yards separated from the quarterback. But Meyers tried to lead Mac Jones on the throw. The Patriots QB reached a maximum speed of 8.78 MPH to try to get to the throw, but soft-handed Chandler Jones got there first.

Unfortunately, because it wasn’t legally a pass, NextGen Stats doesn’t have how far the ball traveled in the air. Fortunately, I took geometry in high school and have access to the NFL rule book that explains the exact dimensions of the football field.

By estimating where Jakobi Meyers was on the field at the time of the lateral and where Chandler Jones was at the time of the “fumble recovery,” I can conclude that the ball traveled at least 23.9 yards in the air. This estimate does not factor in the distance added from the arc of the ball because, like I said, I only took high school geometry.

It was unofficially the farthest-thrown lateral of Week 15.

MVP race closest in recent memory

The changes to the NFL MVP voting could not have come at a better time. We football viewers are being treated to an excellent display from deserving quarterbacks down the stretch, and the top on-field award is truly up for grabs.

Right now there’s a clear top 3 among Patrick Mahomes, Jalen Hurts and Joe Burrow. Through 15 weeks of the season I could hear an argument for any of the three. If it continues that way for the final three games of the year, it’ll prove exactly why we needed ranked-choice voting.

We first told you about the coming changes in September, and the Associated Press announced them last month. Fifty voters will rank their top-five choices with points being awarded depending on the order.

The race for MVP is as close as I can remember at this point. Here’s hoping we continue to get great football and that the new system figures it all out.

Road teams are going back to being road kill

Unless things turn around in the closing weeks of the season, the NFL is heading back to a season where the road teams get dominated.

So far this season, road teams are 99-122-2. That’s a .448 winning percentage, and it’s on pace to be the lowest in four years.

Since 2019, the road teams had been gaining on the home teams. In 2019, road teams won 48.2% of the time. In the aberrational 2020 season (with few to no fans across stadia), road teams actually won 50.2% of the games. It was the first time in NFL history road teams won more than home teams. And last year road teams won 48.3% of games.

Like most standalone stats, I’m not sure what it means exactly. But it’s noteworthy.

Rooney Rule tweak not renewed

One quick update on the Rooney Rule as the hiring cycle starts its engines.

You may recall last year the NFL tweaked the Rooney Rule to allow teams who had fired their head coach the opportunity to interview a non-head coach on another team in the final two weeks of the season. Essentially, it was the opportunity to get a head start on things.

Well, that rule is no more. I confirmed with the league office that it was a one-year trial that was not renewed by the team owners.

No team was able to take advantage of it last year. The Jaguars tried to interview Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn towards the end of the season, but he declined. So teams like the Panthers and Colts won’t have that opportunity this year.

I don’t feel one way or the other about that part of the rule going. What was always curious to me was the exclusion of general manager candidates from that policy. No offense to the personnel folks around the league, but they are typically slightly less busy in the final two weeks of the regular season than in-demand coaches who are likely on a playoff-bound team.

I think you would have seen teams take more advantage of the trial if it had been extended to the GM ranks either instead of, or in addition to, the coaching ranks.

The rest of the rules around the Rooney Rule still apply, for what it’s worth. Teams must interview at least two external minority candidates for head coach or GM jobs.

Leave a Comment