We've noted how the league is slowly changing rules and regulations to fit Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and his proposals. Back in 2014, Belichick suggested higher goal posts, changing the distance of an extra point, increasing cameras on the goal line and sideline, and making all plays, including penalties, challengable.
The first two have been implemented and the third is in progress. The fourth is growing in support among coaches around the league.
"Bill Belichick brought up a great point in our owner’s meetings last year about allowing a coach to challenge a play if he decided it was worthy," Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said at the Combine. "I’m in favor of that. If we have an opportunity to get something right, let’s use that change to get it right. That’s what he was saying. If it’s wrong and we have a chance to make it right with undisputable evidence, then let’s do it. I’m supportive of something along those lines. We’ll see where it goes."
Belichick suggested making all plays reviewable in the year following the infamous Panthers incident, where Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly held Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski in the end zone on the final drive. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw the ball to Gronkowski and was intercepted, but the hold on Gronkowski drew the flag from the officials. Instead of ruling in the Patriots favor, the officials picked up the flag and ended the game in a Panthers victory.
The hope with the rule change would be so coaches could challenge blatant holds or interferences that were missed by the officials, but had a great impact on the game. The obvious counter is that these calls are all subjectively made by the officials so there would be little continuity between games.
The flaws in the NFL's catch rules are magnified by an improvement in technology that can slow down a play to individual frames, which forces officials to make calls that are difficult to make universal. A similar disaster would occur if penalties were under the same subject of review.
But that doesn't really matter to coaches, who only want to make sure the correct call is made on the field.
"Whatever gets it right," Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak said. "Whatever we can do to get as close to being exactly right on gameday, I think everybody wants without slowing the game down. Without slowing the pace of the game down and having big delays but trying to get things right, I think we’re all in favor of that."
And that pace of the game is the biggest obstacle for this rule ever becoming a reality. Having every play up for review could possibly extend games to ridiculous lengths, and fans are already annoyed by the touchdown-commercial-extra point-commercial-kick off-commercial club sandwich from hell.
"I do think before you get into anything like that you really have to look at all the implications of it and maybe some of the unintended consequences of it," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said. "But I do think there’s some value to constantly look at the replay system, how we can do it better."
"I think I can just make a blank statement: we don’t want our game officiated through replay," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome agreed. "We want it officiated on the field."
In order for the rule to be in place, it needs to prevent challenges from taking over the game. Here's a solution:
1) Coaches will still have two challenges, with a third if they get the first two correct. An incorrect challenge will cost the team a timeout.
2) All penalties can be challenged, and unclear results will yield to the original call on the field.
3) Missed penalties have to be explicitly challenged (ex: #24 held #11 at the 17 yard line), with unclear results yielding to the original non-call.
4a) Make defensive pass interference a 15-yard penalty, and remove the automatic first down. Remove the automatic first down from defensive holding, too.
4b) OR make offensive holding result in the loss of a down. 4A is far better, but this is merely an alternative to make it more balanced.
5) Inside of the two-minute mark, when all plays are auto-reviewable, a team can call a timeout and request a review of an uncalled penalty using the same explicit language. A correct challenge will still cost the team a timeout. A team cannot challenge within the two-minute mark without a timeout.
In the end, this won't greatly adjust the flow or timing of the game; perhaps teams might be more willing to throw a challenge flag, but the result is improving the integrity of the game on the field. Coaches combine to throw less than one penalty flag per individual game (per Pro Football Reference coaching data), so even if challenges double, we're talking about one additional review per game.
If the game is on the line, like it was between the Patriots and the Panthers, that additional review is exactly what every single fan will want to ensure the correct call is made at the end of the day.