Is It Time For NFL To Start Reviewing Penalties?

By Brian Neal
Drew Brees Ahmad Brooks
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

In the last week alone, we’ve seen two extremely controversial calls have huge impacts on the outcome of games. Of course, everyone has seen or at least heard of both of them, but here’s a quick refresher.

The first was in the Sunday afternoon game of the San Francisco 49ers at New Orleans Saints. With a little over three minutes left in the game, Drew Brees was sacked by Ahmad Brooks. Brees fumbled and Patrick Willis recovered, which would have been a huge momentum shift at that point of the game and likely would have won the it for the Niners.

However, the daunting yellow flag flew out of one official’s hand and roughing the passer was called. The Saints ended up keeping the ball and winning the game. The hit in question was violent for sure, but was it a penalty? On video replay, it’s certainly up for debate whether it was the right call.

The following night, the New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers took the field for Monday Night Football. The Patriots, down four points, had the ball in the final seconds of the contest. As the clock ran out of time on the final play of the game, Tom Brady tossed a poorly-thrown ball into the end zone intended for Rob Gronkowski which was subsequently intercepted about three yards past the goal line by rookie Robert Lester. Whether the ball was catchable is certainly up for discussion, but what isn’t in question is the fact that Luke Kuechly wrapped up Gronk approximately an entire second before the ball was touched by anyone.

That heart-stopping little flag was once again thrown, except this time it was waved off after the officials got together to talk about it, thus allowing the Panthers to maintain their four-point lead and the victory. Again, the replay sparked the complaints of many who disagreed.

Now, regardless of what I personally think of each penalty and how they should or should not have been interpreted — which I will not reveal here for the sake of remaining unbiased — one question arises: is it time for the NFL to start reviewing penalties? This needs to be seriously thought about because situations like this happen every season and there’s no good reason for them to exist.

Now, I understand that there are quite a few problems that creep up when we get into this discussion.

Are we going to stop the game after every penalty to review it? Are we just going to allow coaches to throw a challenge flag every time they think they see a holding? Where do we draw all these lines on this very complex rule book within the realm of video replay?

It’s definitely a complicated web to untangle. However, I think that if done the right way, it can be possible and not slow down the game. Not only that, but I think we can effectively eliminate situations like the ones above and get the call right every time possible.

Here’s how this would look: All penalties that are over five yards in length or award automatic first downs would be reviewable. That means pass interference (whether offensive or defensive), facemask, clipping, roughing the passer, unnecessary roughness, defensive holding, etc. would all be allowed to be reviewed. This means that things such as illegal shifts, false starts and the like would not be able to be reviewed — mostly because that’s generally unnecessary and doesn’t really have a great impact on the game, and obviously for the sake of not having to stop the game excessively.

All of those calls would still be made on the field, but if any of them are questionable, coaches will be allowed to challenge them and they will follow the booth review rules within the final two minutes of each half. I believe these challenges should be added separately to the regular challenges as well, and maybe a case where each team gets one in each half would be a sufficient method.

Having the ability to challenge an on-field judgement call like this would also help with unnecessary roughness flags in the cases where the person who retaliates is penalized. Generally, it’s the second person who gets caught, and their team gets called for it even though in many cases it’s the other team that starts things off with shoving or cheap shots. Not that the person who retaliates is completely innocent in the matter, but clearly they don’t start the issue. It’s only fair and logical.

And that’s really what this whole thing comes down to. Traditionalists say that it might hurt the game, but if we have the technology, why not find a logical and fair way to use it?

There may be more questions and holes in my theory that I haven’t thought of, but at the very least, this foundation makes sense and would be a way to fix these problems from occurring in the future.

If you have any thoughts or arguments about my idea, I encourage all feedback via the comments section below or my social media sites.

Brian Neal is an NFL and NBA contributor for Follow him on Twitter @brianneal23, “Like” him on Facebook and add him to your network on Google+.

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