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How will Pete Carroll handle the NFL’s new pass interference challenge rules?

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NFL: Preseason-Dallas Cowboys at Seattle Seahawks
Pete Carroll is currently winning 49% of his challenges
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The 2019 NFL season ushers in the Pass Interference replay experiment, and it’s been met with…skepticism, to say the least.

We even had the very first challenge on such a play in the first minute of the third quarter of the season opener between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears. We’ll evaluate Thursday night’s game later on as it relates to Pete Carroll’s tendencies.

I know two things about the Seattle Seahawks this year. First, every indication thus far is that Seattle will continue their proven identity of running the ball and taking deep shots. Tyler Lockett’s 25 yards per reception in game three against the LA Chargers serve as an example.

Second, their two corners, nickel, and strong safety are unproven in their big play defense.

The play we’ll look at from the Minnesota Vikings preseason game will serve as another example.

And so, it will be very interesting to see what effect this new rule has on the Seahawks this year. How many deep balls will Pete try to get back on offense? How many Tre Flowers jersey grabs will he try to get un-called?

Pete Carroll went a little red-flag happy this preseason, along with basically every other coach testing this thing out.

5 of 50 looks pretty good for the officiating crew. For those who 1) thought this was going to be the death of the NFL and 2) don’t know the rules of football (see below), remember we’re all here because one of those five overturns should have been in last season’s NFC Championship game. This was not a league-wide epidemic:

So before we get to the Seahawks specifically, here’s a brief refresher on the updates to Pass Interference calls this year.

If you want the short version:
· Offensive PI can be challenged
· Defensive PI can be challenged
· Additionally, a non-call can be disputed via a coach’s challenge just like any other applicable situation. In the second and fourth quarters after the two-minute warning, the replay booth official can stop the game when there is “clear and obvious visual evidence” in relation to a PI penalty or non-call.

By way of reminder, Pass Interference mentioned in the NFL rule book includes:

  • Contact by a player who is not playing the ball that restricts the opponent’s opportunity to make the catch;
  • Playing through the back of an opponent in an attempt to make a play on the ball;
  • Grabbing an opponent’s arm(s) in such a manner that restricts his opportunity to catch a pass;
  • Extending an arm across the body of an opponent, thus restricting his ability to catch a pass, and regardless of whether the player committing such act is playing the ball;
  • Cutting off the path of an opponent by making contact with him, without playing the ball;
  • Hooking an opponent in an attempt to get to the ball in such a manner that it causes the opponent’s body to turn prior to the ball arriving; or
  • Initiating contact with an opponent by shoving or pushing off, thus creating separation

Clear as mud? There’s also a dedicated section to “things that are permissible when the ball is in the air” – so, stuff that’s not pass interference. I’d write those out too, but at this point it just feels like a lot of words.

Let’s watch some tape!

Here’s 2019’s First Ever PI Replay:

The NY Jets overturn a no-call in Week 1:

Pete Carroll’s challenge usage so far

Game 1 - Denver Broncos

4:22 left in 4th quarter. Jamar Taylor called for defensive PI. Seattle challenged and lost. (Call Stands)

Game 2 Minnesota Vikings

4:59 left in 1st quarter. Adam Thielen makes a 30+ yard catch. Seattle challenged a no-call and lost. (Call Stands)

Game 3 LA Chargers

No challenges. In the actual closest thing to real competition. How lame, Pete.

Game 4 Oakland Raiders

3:22 left in 2nd quarter. Jeremy Boykins flagged for Defensive PI. Seattle challenges a tipped ball and won. Call overturned, no penalty. This one was a very good challenge because the ball was tipped. Therefore, no pass interference.

What does all this mean?

That second preseason game against the Vikings is significant and may be the only true indication of how this could affect teams moving forward this year.

Carroll made a bad challenge against Adam Thielen. In part because coaches are trying to figure this thing out, and in part because it’s Pete. Big gain for Minnesota.

But on the very next play, Tre Flowers was flagged for defensive PI against Thielen again for an even bigger gain. Flowers did what concerns me this year, which is a combination of grab-yank-and-pull. However, Thielen made a deliberate and late change of speed, causing Flowers to nearly run into him throughout the play.

Not saying it would have gone Seattle’s way, but this would have been a far superior play to challenge had Carroll not thrown his little red flag mere seconds prior.

Pass interference, by definition, can have the biggest impact on each game by volume of yards. The most egregious and dirty concussion-causing headshot is still only a 15 yard penalty. That PI call on Tre Flowers? 45 yards. Half the field.

Here’s the concern headed into 2019: pass plays happen everywhere, and they’re often for big yards. When does a flag deserve to be thrown, and how often is a head coach going to regret not having the option to look at an even more meaningful play?

Take Thursday night’s game as an example. Chicago’s Taylor Gabriel completed a 15 yard catch in the first minute of the 4th quarter. Green Bay challenged a non-call (yay this is what the rule’s for!) on a very questionable lack of evidence, resulting in an equally frustrating three minutes while we all sat around (boo this is why we hate replay!).

Needless to say, Green Bay did not win.

Before you come down too hard on first-year coach Matt LeFleur, well, no. It was a terrible challenge. It was, as Thielen put it last month, “if that’s pass interference I shouldn’t be playing football.” History made, and history failed. Everyone’s trying to be first at something.

Pete Carroll currently challenges the second most calls in the league, behind Baltimore’s John Harbaugh. He’s one of only three head coaches currently challenging more than once every other game. Carroll’s mildly above average at winning his challenges, so that’s fine. The big issue is that thanks to Jadeveon Clowney the Seahawks have one less weakness on their defense. The chink that opposing offenses are going to have to exploit will have to be throwing downfield against Shaquill Griffin, Flowers, Tedric Thompson and the undetermined nickel corner.

The plays that make the most difference in the field position battle will be against this defense’s biggest weakness, and said plays are now reviewable. If Carroll gets overly enthused and challenges plays too early, we may see teams take shots downfield when Seattle has to rely on their second and third year corners without the help of replay.

At the end of the day, Pete Carroll has nine seasons now of averaging just over eight challenges per year. Though we are talking about proportionally large plays over the course of a game, we’re also talking about a proportionally insignificant amount of plays over the course of a season.

I’d wager right now that the ability to challenge pass interference will increase the frequency across the board - especially in Seattle. But only time will tell how many New Orleans saints situations occur over the course of a year. My guess is not many. My guess is also that Pete’s going to make us shake our heads in bewilderment at more than one red flag this year.