The Interference Debate
Offensive, Defensive, and More
In this week’s Power Poll NFL, we tackle pass interference – offensive, defensive – and the severity of the offense.
In a 2016 game against the Green Bay Packers, Detroit cornerback Nevin Lawson was penalized 66 yards for interference on a pass to Corey Davis. That gave the Packers a first down at the Detroit 2, setting up an easy touchdown in a game Green Bay would wind up winning, 34-27.
Chicago safety Eddie Jackson was penalized 47 yards for interference on a pass to Miami’s Jaylen Waddle and his teammate Kindle Vildor was penalized 32 yards in the same game this season for interfering on a pass to Tyreek Hill. The Dolphins would wind up winning, 35-32. Three different New York Jets were penalized a total of 98 yards for interference with the same two Miami receivers in another game this season.
Denver cornerback Damarri Mathis was penalized for pass interference four times in one game against the Los Angeles Chargers this season for 87 total yards. LA would win that game, 19-16. Cornerbacks Carlton Davis of the Buccaneers, Marshon Lattimore of the New Orleans Saints, Brandon Stephens of the Baltimore Ravens and Derek Stingley Jr. of the Houston Texans have all been slapped with pass interference penalties in excess of 40 yards this season.
That’s the NFL rule – defensive pass interference (DPI) is a spot foul regardless of the distance plus an automatic first down. In our first question, we asked if the NFL should keep the current rule or change to the college rule of 15 yards for the infraction. We received 255 responses from the NFL world of team talent evaluators, former players, writers and broadcasters.
Surprisingly, it was a toss up – 128 voters said keep the current rule and 127 said change pass interference to the college rule.
The camp that wanted to keep the NFL rule made some valid points.
“If you reduce the DPI to 15 yards, it would become a coaching strategy,” said Bob Papa, the radio voice of the New York Giants.
Hall of Fame wide receiver Drew Pearson agreed.
“If I was playing today, I would lead the NFL in drawing pass interference calls,” he said. “I would make it part of our offense. With today’s DBs, that wouldn’t be a problem.”
Added Jeffrey Kerr of CBSSports.com: “The league can’t limit DPI to 15 yards. Defensive backs would be more inclined to tackle wide receivers and get too physical with them on routes. The game would slow down and more flags would be thrown. There has to be some penalty for breaking up a 50-yard pass by tackling the receiver.”
And that leads us into the school of thought from the other camp.
“DPI assumes the offended receiver would have caught the ball,” said Rick Telander, a sports columnist for the Chicago Sun Times. “Says who?”
“DPI is the most overly punitive foul call in pro football,” said Brad Sham, the radio voice of the Dallas Cowboys. “It’s too subjective to be so influential in a game’s outcome.”
Added Ira Kaufman of JoeBucsFan.com, “The penalty for defensive DPI is too egregious. Fans are looking for a flag on every incomplete pass and officials are too willing to comply. As written, it’s a killer penalty that decides games on a weekly basis.”
And not just one particular game.
“DPI changes field position and, in some cases, changes the outcome of a game and ultimately a season,” said Wayne Larrivee, the radio voice of the Green Bay Packers. “That’s way too much punishment for one penalty.”
Our voting panel even offered up a compromise.
“Ideally there would be two DPI penalties,” said Josh Alper of NBCSports.com. “A standard 15-yard penalty for a `common’ foul — and a spot foul when a defender makes no attempt to do anything but drag down a receiver before he can make a play on the ball. Adding objectivity to officiating is never a great thing but there are too many borderline pass interference fouls that don’t justify the level of the penalty.”
The second question dealt with offensive pass interference. The NFL penalty is 10 yards. The college rule is 15 yards. We offered up a third option – make it a spot foul. If you can march off 42 yards for DPI why not 42 yards for offensive pass interference? There’s a double standard in play here.
Only 15 voters liked the idea of a spot foul. And, again, the voting was split between the NFL rule and college rule — 116 said keep the NFL rule while 124 said change to the college rule.
The spot foul did have its small group of fans.
“The spot foul assumes the pass would have been complete if not for the infraction, which leads to an inordinate penalty,” said Les East of CrescentCitySports.com. “The penalty for the offense and defense should be equal because the standard is the same.”
A number of voters proposed a compromise for offensive pass interference – adding an additional layer of punishment to the yardage.
“I always thought offensive pass interference should be a bigger penalty than it is,” said Charean Williams of NBCSports.com. “Fifteen yards and a loss of down is what it should be.”
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