Challenges for pass interference are a dicey but necessary NFL rule change

Jan 20, 2019; New Orleans, LA: Los Angeles Rams defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman (23) breaks up a pass intended or New Orleans Saints wide receiver Tommylee Lewis during the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. (Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports)
Jan 20, 2019; New Orleans, LA: Los Angeles Rams defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman (23) breaks up a pass intended or New Orleans Saints wide receiver Tommylee Lewis during the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. (Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports)

By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

The NFL's biggest rule change of 2019 comes with risk. But it also brings a necessary protection to the integrity of games against egregious officiating mistakes.

As announced on Tuesday night at the NFL's annual league meeting in Phoenix, the league has approved a rule change allowing coaches to throw challenge flags for pass interference - whether called or not. It's a reaction to the obvious DPI on Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman that officials inexplicably missed in the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship Game, which the Rams won over the New Orleans Saints to send them to Super Bowl LIII.

Of course, Saints head coach Sean Payton spearheaded the discussion to implement the rule change, which will only apply to the final two minutes of halves. Here's the official language of the rule change, per NFL Communications:

"By Competition Committee; For one year only, expands the reviewable plays in Instant Replay to include pass interference, called or not called on the field. Also expands automatic replay reviews to include scoring plays and turnovers negated by a foul, and any Try attempt (extra point or two-point conversion)."

The intention of the change is to correct obvious mistakes like the one in the NFC title game, which clearly should have been a flag. Debates can continue to rage over how much the non-call really impacted the outcome of that game. But no NFL fan should be OK with such a mistake playing any kind of role in such a meaningful situation.

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - JANUARY 20: A referee watches as Tommylee Lewis of the New Orleans Saints drops a pass broken up by Nickell Robey-Coleman of the Los Angeles Rams during the fourth quarter in the NFC Championship game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - JANUARY 20: A referee watches as Tommylee Lewis of the New Orleans Saints drops a pass broken up by Nickell Robey-Coleman of the Los Angeles Rams during the fourth quarter in the NFC Championship game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Risky, still, is the ability to challenge judgment calls like pass interference. The hope is that officials do not overreach and use replay to analyze every millisecond of a play to see whether a defender's hand grazed a receiver. The language of the rule change doesn't necessarily protect against that. It'll be up to them to minimize analysis of replays and, if it's not an egregious call/non-call, quickly move on with the game.

It's also a dog whistle for proponents of "slippery slope" theories. Why stop at pass interference? Other proposals at the league meeting wanted the same rule to apply to roughing the passer and/or personal fouls. Could this rule expand to all penalties in the future? Or, as Bill Belichick has advocated for, all plays?

The rule change is a flimsy one, without question. It'll lead to some doomsday proclamations. But just remember the same outcries that came out over the league's rule change regarding lowered helmets a year ago. The change ultimately had no effect whatsoever. And even if this rule has disastrous unintended consequences, it's being described as a one-year trial. Just call the toll-free number and cancel before it renews!

Hopefully the pass interference change does have an effect on the end of games. But only for occasions like the NFC Championship Game, when just about the entire football world agrees that the officials badly screwed up. If it goes any further, that's when the risk becomes reality.

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].