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NFL officiating isn’t getting better, and the league has itself to blame

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More replay. Add a sky judge. Do both. Do neither.

None of it will matter, not now or in the future, until the NFL embraces its proposed fixes for officiating.

What is clear beyond all else is that, sometime after Week 2, the league sabotaged its new rule to review pass interference. It has not confirmed that conclusion, of course, and officially a spokesman said no changes have been implemented. But the numbers speak for themselves.

Since the start of Week 3, coaches have lost 27 of 28 pass interference challenges, including some that seemed no less egregious than the non-call that sparked the rule change in last season’s NFC Championship Game.

In reality, it seems the NFL chose the appearance of addressing a shortcoming rather than actually doing the work necessary to fix it — a reality that suggests a significant moment of reckoning looming this winter for the league’s officiating department.

In the meantime, everyone has a suggestion for how to reduce the number of officiating controversies in the NFL. Many of them have merit, including various versions of a sky judge — an additional official in the press box who alerts on-field officials to obvious mistakes. But if the league kneecapped its signature rule this season after only two weeks, why does anyone think it would embrace and see through the challenges of a sky judge? In many ways, the sky judge presents the same issues the NFL encountered and then punted on when reviewing pass interference.

I’m not sure why NFL senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron raised his standard for reversals to a near-impossible level. Commissioner Roger Goodell said at the NFL’s fall owners meeting that the rule was designed only to “correct the obvious and clear error,” and he implied that coaches are still coming to grips with that intent. But even casual observers could pick any number of unsuccessful reviews that seemed ripe for reversal, especially based on the way Riveron defined the standard before the season.

During the spring and summer, Riveron pointed to a series of representative plays when coaches and media members asked how he would decide whether to reverse a pass interference call or no-call. Most notably, he said he would use as a guide the contact that occurred in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LIII, when New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore pinned one arm of receiver Brandin Cooks before the ball arrived.

It was the kind of play that generated imprecise analysis: clear contact that fell short of “egregious.” But Riveron’s use of that play suggested that if he saw a reasonable facsimile of pass interference on a review, he would make sure the flag was thrown. That stopped happening after Week 2, and the shift was noticeable.

On Thursday Night Football during Week 4 at Lambeau Field, Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Avonte Maddox slammed into Green Bay Packers receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling along the right sideline before the ball arrived. The contact, in fact, wasn’t much different than what occurred during last year’s NFC Championship Game. Riveron posted a Twitter video on the decision, saying only that “there was no clear and obvious evidence that [Maddox] significantly hindered the opponent.” He did not explain why he thought the clearly visible contact was not significant enough to merit a flag, and as it turned out, that was the last time Riveron addressed a pass interference review on his social account.

Let’s not get lost in these details in service of the larger point, though. The NFL has a rule on its books that allows coaches to seek overturns on plays in which on-field officials made mistakes. And, just as it did in 2018 with its new helmet rule, the league has largely declined to enforce it in part because the officiating department didn’t immediately find a way to do so in an equitable and consistent manner.

The same issue would crop up with a sky judge. What standard would define a “clear and obvious” mistake worthy of buzzing down to the referee?

How egregiously would an offensive lineman need to hold a pass-rusher to warrant intervention? Would the lineman need a fistful of jersey? Would his hand need to be outside the frame of the defender’s body? How significantly would a cornerback need to hinder a receiver from playing the ball? How forcefully would a hand need to touch the neck or head to be declared illegal hands to the face?

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Dan Orlovsky expresses disappointment in the officiating in the NFL this season, saying owners should take action now to resolve the issue.

These are not unanswerable questions. They would require work and training to create a standard that could be followed by 17 sky judges in crews across the league — the same kind of work the NFL has not yet undertaken as it relates to reviewing pass interference. And it’s debatable at best whether the NFL has the infrastructure to handle the challenge. As ESPN officiating analyst John Parry noted earlier this season, the NFL’s once-robust training staff has dwindled to two employees.

Parry’s own idea for a customized version of the sky judge is even less invasive, as he relayed it during a phone call this week.

Under his proposal, the NFL would hire a handful of college officials, who are also part of its developmental program, after their seasons are over in November. Those college officials would perch in the press box and participate in an experiment that would envision them as an eighth official in the crew. They wouldn’t have the authority to overrule any calls based on what they see on their television monitors, but they could provide insight that the referee wouldn’t have from field level. The goal wouldn’t be to ensure every call was accurate but instead to protect against major credibility-influencing mistakes.



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Seahawks DE Jadeveon Clowney questionable with sore hip

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RENTON, Wash. — Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was away from the team Friday getting “treatment” on a sore hip that has him questionable for Sunday’s game at Philadelphia.

Clowney will meet the team in Philadelphia and will be a game-time decision, according to Carroll. He didn’t specify the nature or extent of Clowney’s hip injury nor where he was receiving treatment, only saying it was off-site. The injury stems from the Seahawks’ win over the 49ers two weeks ago, which preceded Seattle’s bye.

“Something he felt in the game, came out of the game with a little something,” Carroll said. “Just checking him out, making sure he’s OK.”

Clowney missed practice Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The Seahawks weren’t required to detail player participation in their “bonus Monday” practice.

Clowney has been the Seahawks’ best pass-rusher this season — he’s fifth in the NFL in ESPN’s Pass Rush Win Rate at 26.6% — and arguably their most impactful defender. His dominant performance against the 49ers included a sack, five quarterback hits and his second defensive touchdown of the season.

Tyler Lockett, the Seahawks’ No. 1 receiver, is expected to play Sunday after being limited in practice the last three days. He spent two nights at Stanford Hospital as a precautionary measure last week after suffering a lower leg contusion against the 49ers, which sidelined him for overtime.

“At this point it’s not a dangerous injury now,” Carroll said. “He had a real contusion in his lower leg that just needed some time. There was enough time fortunately. We had the week off. I don’t know if he would have made it now if we had played last week. That would have been hard to see that happening. But he’s ready to go now. He’s fine.”

The Seahawks on Friday placed veteran tight end Ed Dickson back on injured reserve, officially ending his season two days after he was activated off IR. The Seahawks had to activate Dickson this week in order to make him eligible to play this season. They promoted Tyrone Swoops from their practice squad while putting Dickson back on IR.

Tight end Luke Willson (hamstring) is listed as doubtful for Sunday, though Carroll came up with his own designation, calling him “probable-doubtful” in reference to Willson’s history of being a quick healer. Jacob Hollister and Swoops are the only healthy tight ends on Seattle’s roster, though backup tackle George Fant also plays a de facto tight end role.

The 32-year-old Dickson will have missed 22 of 32 regular-season games over his first two years with the Seahawks. He’s set to count almost $4.3 million against the cap next season in the final year of his deal.

“Eddy, he’s just not ready and it’s unfortunate and I feel bad for him and all,” Carroll said. “It’s just the right thing to do. He’s not ready to play yet. He was ready to get back to practice. He did that. When we pushed it up, we could tell. So we had to move him back to IR. We had to activate him on Wednesday to make him available. He had a good day’s work and you could tell. I sat with him .. talked through it and he understood. He could tell he doesn’t quite feel as ready as he needs to be.”

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49ers set to embark on historically difficult three-game stretch – San Francisco 49ers Blog

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. — To say the San Francisco 49ers’ schedule is about to get tougher over the next three weeks would drastically understate what’s coming.

The journey the Niners are about to begin — with games against the Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Ravens and New Orleans Saints — could be the most difficult stretch any team has faced this late in the season in the Super Bowl era.

Through Week 11, those teams have combined for a 24-6 record (all three are 8-2), good for a winning percentage of .800. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, no team has played three straight games against teams with an .800 or better winning percentage this late in the season in the Super Bowl era. If the Ravens and Saints can win their games before facing San Francisco, the Niners would be the first team to face such a stretch.

What’s more, only four teams in the Super Bowl era — the 2007 Detroit Lions, 1999 Cleveland Browns, 1990 Washington Redskins and 1990 Minnesota Vikings — have played three such games (not consecutively) in their 11th game or later.

None of those teams entered such a gantlet with as much on the line as these 49ers, who are 9-1 and in control of the NFC playoff picture.

“This is why you play football, for this kind of a stretch,” Niners right tackle Mike McGlinchey said. “We have put ourselves in a pretty solid position here, but it means nothing if we don’t get our jobs done over these next few weeks. … We’ve got our work cut out for us but we’ve got the right coaching staff to get us in the game plan, and I believe in this locker room to execute and get the job done.”

For much of this season, the 49ers’ turnaround has been met with raised eyebrows. Even after manhandling teams like the Rams, Panthers and Browns, the Niners’ lack of top-tier victories has left skeptics questioning how good they really are. Suffice it to say, definitive answers are coming soon.

ESPN’s Football Power Index rates the 49ers’ remaining strength of schedule the most difficult in the NFL, with the next three games providing the stiffest of tests. FPI gives the 49ers a 61% chance to beat the Packers on Sunday but those numbers drop to 34% against the Ravens and 40% against the Saints. The latter two are the lowest-percentage chances for wins remaining on San Francisco’s schedule, and a Week 17 trip to Seattle offers the only one lower than the Green Bay game.

It all starts with the Packers traveling to Levi’s Stadium as the Niners look to win the one home game of the three. At a combined 17-3, the combined .850 winning percentage is the best in a game between these historic rivals in the Super Bowl era.

At stake? A spot in the driver’s seat for the NFC’s No. 1 seed. FPI gives the 49ers a 45% chance at the NFC’s top spot with a win and just a 10% shot with a loss. Green Bay would have a 44% chance at the 1 seed with a victory and 4% with a defeat.

None of that includes juicy subplots such as the first meeting between quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Jimmy Garoppolo and the offensive battle of Mike Shanahan coaching-tree luminaries Kyle Shanahan and Matt LaFleur.

“It will be another unique battle,” 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman said. “It’ll be a play style similar to what we see week in and week out with Kyle and their offense. So we’ll prepare for that. A-Rod is one of the best to ever do it. So it will be a tremendous challenge for us, and we’re excited about it.”

A win against the Packers would go a long way before heading on another weeklong stay on the other side of the country. Like they did earlier this year — when they went to Tampa Bay and Cincinnati with a week in Youngstown, Ohio, in between — the Niners will travel to Baltimore, play the Ravens, travel to Florida for the practice week and then head to New Orleans before returning to the Bay Area.

If the 49ers can pocket a victory against Green Bay, it would mean a split of the two road games would keep them in a prime position for a bye and the top seed, especially if that win came in New Orleans. It would also likely mean losing both games wouldn’t be a death knell to their hopes of advancing directly to the divisional round.

“Week in and week out, you always find out stuff about your team,” Niners coach Kyle Shanahan said. “You find out about people. There’s lots of football here to play. Each game’s going to be huge, so just trying to take it one week at a time and make sure we don’t look too far down the road because everyone’s in this it seems like right now.”

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Los Angeles Chargers’ Michael Davis suspended 2 games for violating NFL’s substance abuse policy

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COSTA MESA, Calif. — Los Angeles Chargers cornerback Michael Davis has been suspended two games for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

The Chargers (4-7) are on their bye this week. The suspension will cover road games against Denver (Dec. 1) and Jacksonville (Dec. 8).

Davis, who is in his third season, has started nine games this year and has an interception along with 27 tackles.

General manager Tom Telesco said in a statement that Davis is a good person who made a “significant mistake this past offseason.”

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