5 min read

Why the NFL Must Make Every Call Reviewable

Just make everything reviewable.

It’s time — past time, really.  

That’s all I could think about while watching Sunday's games. There was the terrible spot on Kenny Pickett's quarterback sneak for the Pittsburgh Steelers in SoFi Stadium against the Los Angeles Rams and the horrendous roughing the passer call on Miami Dolphins DT Christian Wilkins.

Plus, a missed facemask by Philadelphia Eagles CB James Bradberry in the same game. Add in some of the calls in that Indianapolis Colts vs. Cleveland Browns contest, and it was not a good day for the folks in black and white.

The officiating in the NFL is not as good as it should or can be, and as far as I can tell, making every play reviewable is the best solution.

>>WATCH: 'Make the Call' with Dean Blandino 

NFL Officiating Needs to Improve

Regarding the quality of the officiating, I am not sure whether any of the various constituents, owners, fans, coaches, players, media, league, or even the officials themselves, would disagree. It’s not even the question.

The only question is, how can the NFL make it better?

Complaining and criticizing, while cathartic for many folks, ultimately accomplishes nothing.  Trying to improve in every way possible, seeking solutions, etc., is a step in the right direction. 

To that end, I interviewed longtime NFL official and current CBS officiating expert Gene Steratore to see if we could figure out tangible ways to improve after an NFL Week 7 that saw egregious errors and apparent mistakes everywhere.

A disclaimer: I’m incredibly supportive of officials in general and those in the NFL in particular. There is an officiating shortage in youth and even high school sports that is almost at crisis levels partly because of the treatment these men and women receive. I want to find ways to help these people, not simply ridicule them.

That’s also why I gave Steratore a blank canvas at the start of our interview, which will air next week on the Ross Tucker Football Podcast. If he were in charge of NFL officiating, what would he do?

Focused on Solutions

Steratore talked about treating officials like another NFL team, investing in scouting and development and all the other things that allow any entity or organization to improve. But even with that development, any improvement would likely be marginal.

This is the time of year when people call for full-time officials, so I specifically asked Steratore about that.

“I don’t think full-time officiating is the answer,” Steratore said, adding, “We don’t have enough seasons and games to get better all offseason. As it is, most officials put in between 20 and 30 hours each week during the season scouting match-ups, discussing trends and potential formations, etc. I don’t view full-time officials as the answer because that does nothing to fix the problem. The problem, in my view, is the technology. The technology is so good now with all the different camera angles, slow motion, etc. and yet the NFL is not using it nearly as well as they could be."

"There is absolutely no way that millions of people should be able to see a blatant facemask or a horrific spot and then feel the toxic combination of helplessness and frustration that comes along with not being able to fix an obvious error."

“The fact that we see egregious errors or officials missing the layup is the issue,” said Steratore.

“On the other end, we tried to review pass interference a few years back, and the subjectivity can be debated every game all the time.”

The Eye in the Sky

Steratore is right regarding the subjectivity of judgment calls on pass interference, but the answer is still to make everything reviewable and, thus, challengeable.

When I bring that up, the default reaction is usually a concern regarding the length of games, but how much longer can it be? Coaches only get two challenges, with the ability to use a third if they get the first two.

The NFL has been slowly putting more and more on the plate of the “expedited review” from New York for certain mistakes. However, it still feels like they are more likely to step in during the postseason than the regular season, and there remains ambiguity regarding when exactly they will or won’t change the call on their own without a coach having to challenge it.

Besides, if you are a coach, you will still be very informed about when you use your challenges. You don’t want to be in a situation like Sean McVay's on Sunday when the Rams coach was helpless on the Pickett sneak because he didn’t have any timeouts left. 

Making the Call

The problem is obvious errors and the need for more accountability.  The solution is making everything reviewable but only via a coach’s challenge.

If you put it on the coach, they must decide whether it is worth using a challenge. Given that everything would be reviewable, the smart ones would be hesitant to use it for subjective calls or anything that isn’t blatant and obvious.

Would it have been worth it for Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel to challenge the Wilkins roughing call, knowing there is some subjectivity to it?  Possibly.  Would it have been worth it for him to challenge the Bradberry facemask on fourth down?  Absolutely.

Ultimately, coaches would have the option to fix apparent mistakes by the officials, who are sometimes overwhelmed by the game's speed.

Ross Tucker is a former NFL offensive lineman who played seven seasons for the Cowboys, Bills, Patriots and Washington after graduating from Princeton University in 2001. He works as a color commentator for both CBS Sports and Westwood One in addition to hosting several podcasts, including the popular Ross Tucker Football Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @RossTuckerNFL.