Replacement refs, player safety, and the NFL's lack of concern
However, this week I was repeatedly wondering what was going through the refs' minds when making some of these calls.
They picked up an intentional grounding flag after Ryan Tannehill threw the ball out of a tuck position and it landed about a yard in front of him, well behind the line of scrimmage. As far as I'm concerned, that was blatant grounding.
They missed some holding calls that were painfully obvious. I remember one non-call in the Seahawks' backfield in which a lineman basically gave a Cowboys player a big ol' bear hug from the side. Two refs were right in the area, neither reached for his flag.
The refs also gave the Broncos 11 yards for a pass interference penalty, when the penalty should have only given them five yards. There's no way to tell what would have happened had the correct penalty been enforced, but it's worth noting that the Broncos scored a touchdown with only six seconds left in the half on that same drive.
But you know what? All these blown calls aren't the end of the world. As NFL fans, we have learned to live with controversy and ambiguity when it comes to officiating, and though there is a little more than normal this year, we'll get over it. While those types of blown calls aren't a huge deal, however, there are some blown calls that are. These blown calls are ones that have to do with player safety.
The replacement refs seem to do everything slow. When it comes to throwing flags, discussing penalties, reviewing plays, etc., it's not the biggest of issues. However, when they are late to break up post-play scuffles, they risk the possibility of a real fight breaking out. If a real fight were to happen, the refs would just have to hope that the players' involved have teammates who will pull them away, because physically, the refs can't do a thing about it.
That's still not really the biggest concern here. My biggest concern is that the refs allow for big, vicious, dirty hits that put players at a severe injury risk. I saw several players go right into ball carriers with their heads on Sunday, but nothing was called. I'm a guy who thinks that the defenseless receiver rule (when the receiver has the ball in his hands) and the crack-back block rule are absolutely absurd, so I'm not talking about what many would consider ticky-tack penalties.