For the first time in NFL history, coaches will have the chance to challenge penalties.
Not all of them — just pass interference calls and non-calls — and, for now, it’ll only be for the 2019 season. Still, it’s relatively uncharted territory for a league that has previously avoided making “judgment calls” (i.e. penalties) reviewable.
The rule change came two months after an egregious missed call cost the New Orleans Saints a trip to the Super Bowl. Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman blatantly interfered with receiver Tommylee Lewis in the final minutes of the NFC Championship. But instead of a game-icing pass interference penalty, the Rams were afforded one last possession. They took advantage of it and earned a trip to the Super Bowl.
With the new rules in place, the missed call could’ve been reviewed and likely would’ve been changed. That’s a good thing.
The biggest potential downside is that NFL games already take over three hours to finish. Any additional replay reviews stand to make games last even longer. That probably sounds unappealing for fans who already have to sit through a lot of downtime to watch about 11 minutes of actual action on the field.
Is it something the NFL should be worried about?
There will probably be more replay reviews
That sounds obvious, but some of the movers and shakers at the NFL Annual Meeting actually suggested the opposite could be true.
“We even looked at the fact that if we broaden what coaches can review, that maybe that even speeds the game up, because maybe they’ll save some and not challenge as many as they have in the past,” Broncos executive John Elway said. “So there are always unintended consequences that we try to figure out before a rule would go in.”
That seems wildly optimistic.
Coaches will still have just two challenges, along with a third if they win the first two. But the problem is that NFL coaches rarely use those allotted opportunities to call for a review.
No coach in the league challenged more than eight plays during the 2018 regular season. That means even the most aggressive coach with replays only averaged one challenge every two games. That leaves a worst-case scenario where we could see more than four times as many challenges if coaches actually used all of them.
It’s highly doubtful that coaches will actually challenge less often now — especially when they’re able to review a highly impactful penalty that was called 320 times during the 2018 season.