Yahoo Sports Senior NFL writer Terez Paylor spoke with former NFL referee and current Fox Sports NFL Rules Analyst Mike Pereira about some of the tricks of the trade that referees use to make the right calls in the pressure moment.
TEREZ PAYLOR: While coaches, players, and executives feel the heat in the playoffs, you better believe refs do, too, because they get graded and evaluated every play of every game. And they face fan outrage if they screw up. Add that to real-life NFL game speed, not to mention the fact that a penalty could be called on any play in a pro football game, and nailing these calls in the moment is a tough job.
But these guys are professionals. More often than not, they get it right, using some tricks of the trade they use to help them decide whether to throw the flag or not. Today on "Check the Tape," former NFL ref and Fox NFL rules analyst Mike Pereira is going to break down a few examples from the Rams-Seahawks game this past weekend.
Let's jump right into it. Our first play is a special teams play. And David Long is whistled for the hold on the punt return. But there also appeared to be holding at the bottom of the screen. Pereira, however, says there was one key difference that caused a penalty to be caught at the top of the screen and not the bottom. I thought this was interesting.
MIKE PERERIA: In the first one, Long, there's no question he grabs him by the jersey and pulls him to the ground, easily call if there's such a thing, easy call for a hold because we're looking for restriction and downfield official. On the other side, the difference is it's a double team. And when there's a double team block, you're not going to call that. The philosophy is if they're going to take two to block one, you're going to let them get away, the double team, more than you would normally on a one-on-one. Since they double teamed, didn't take him to the ground, and he didn't break through in between them and then have them-- pull them back in, it's not one you're going to call.
TEREZ PAYLOR: All right, you probably saw this unfortunate hit by Jamal Adams on John Wolford. Wolford got hurt. The ref threw the flag. But he ultimately picked it up.
Now, this is a bit of a judgment call. But Mike would have actually gone the other way on it and enforced a penalty. Why? Because while the ref ruled that he was a runner and thus doesn't get protection, there's also a case he was defenseless, especially given the outcome of the play when Wolford left the game.
MIKE PERERIA: He's right when he said that a runner doesn't get protection. But at that point, Wolford's not a runner. I mean, he's given himself by going forward. What you can do when you're down, as soon as you touch the ground, and as soon as you touch the ground, then you become by rule defenseless. So therefore, you get all the protections to the head or neck area, whether it's shoulder--
TEREZ PAYLOR: Got you.
MIKE PERERIA: --helmet, or forearm. And we all would agree that he was a runner. He was certainly-- you know, he wasn't in a passing posture. But then you have to make that quick decision. And it's close, by the way.
TEREZ PAYLOR: It is pretty close.
MIKE PERERIA: Whether the shin and the knee are down before he gets hit, or are they still up when he does get hit? And to me, in this particular situation, Wolford was in a vulnerable position. So you have to do everything you can to protect him from getting hit in the head.
TEREZ PAYLOR: All right, next one is a holding and call him Mike Iupati. His outside hand is inside the chest. Come on, Mike. As a former lineman, I'm like eh, you know, let him have it, Mike. Let him get his work in, Mike.
MIKE PERERIA: This is one to me that's interesting, too. It's a hold. It's a hold. And--
TEREZ PAYLOR: All right, all right, I get it. He's clutching onto the defender as he tries to pull away. Plus, the inside hand is outside the chest, it looks like. But there's one key aspect of this that ensures this getting called, because it's on the front side of the play, not the back side.
MIKE PERERIA: The way that the rulebook describes it, if you feel that the person that is held can't get to the runner if he wouldn't have been held or can't get to the ball, then let it go. Then let it go. So it has to have an affect on the play.
TEREZ PAYLOR: OK, last one-- defensive pass interference, and it was waved off because the player made the catch. But there's one thing about this that ensured that it was gonna get called.
MIKE PERERIA: I think it's a foul. Williams does not play the ball. He never makes a play on the ball. And as an official, you're trying to put everything into a category when it comes to defensive pass interference. There's six of them. So you, as an official, are always trying to find as this play is developing and there's the possibility of interference what category are we in?
TEREZ PAYLOR: Got you.
MIKE PERERIA: And the number one you're looking at is not playing the ball, contact not playing the ball. You're not playing the ball, that's the one that the officials that go hey, man, if there's contact, with him not making any play on the ball, with not turning your head at all-- if that at any way restricts that receiver, I'm going to call it.
TEREZ PAYLOR: OK, now here's the thing-- the refs need little tricks like this to make sure that they get these calls right. They got to do it in a flash. And the stakes are really high, because if they didn't have them, it would make it a lot tougher for them to adhere to the one rule of playoff officiating. Tell 'em, Mike.
MIKE PERERIA: The number one thing that the referees have accomp-- they have to accomplish is to just don't screw up.
They just want to walk off this field being satisfied that their performance was acceptable. For three hours, for three hours, you just have to focus on every play and be able to walk off that field saying, as an official, I'm not going to get a call from Walt Anderson tomorrow telling me that I screwed up something. So that's your goal.