Dirty Laundry: Strategy and bad calls

Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy, who admittedly has taken some unorthodox approaches to throwing the red flag in his career, has nailed all three of his challenges in the past two weeks. But the circumstances of the most recent instance support our discussions on spot challenges and the role of coaches in officiating.

First, the details. There were 6 minutes, 36 seconds remaining in the first quarter of Sunday’s game when New York Jets punter Steve Weatherford took off on what was later revealed to be a self-initiated fake punt. The line of scrimmage was the Jets’ 20-yard line, so Weatherford needed 18 yards to gain a first down.

Weatherford stumbled as Packers safety Anthony Smith tried to upend him near the right sideline. He ultimately fell with the ball marked at the 39-yard line, enough for a first down. But even watching live, it seemed clear to me that Weatherford’s left foot had touched the sideline far earlier. Replays quickly confirmed it wasn’t even close.

It was an obvious missed call by referee Jeff Triplette’s crew, and McCarthy’s challenge got it reversed. Good move by McCarthy, but for me, it was more evidence for why the NFL is wrong to burden coaches with oversight of officials during games.

I would welcome disagreements, but I thought the Weatherford call was just as egregious as the two Percy Harvin touchdowns that ultimately were reversed Oct. 24 at Lambeau Field. One came when referee Scott Green’s crew missed Harvin stepping out of bounds a full yard before running into the end zone. The other was a booth review of Harvin’s one-foot dance at the back of the end zone late in the fourth quarter.

Viewed together, those calls represent a systemic issue that can’t be solved by two (and occasionally three) coach-initiated challenges per game. The challenge system was created in part to add a level of strategy to the game, but if we’re at a point where officials are missing what seem to be routine and obvious calls, there needs to be another way of rectifying them -- one that is independent of any strategy. Coaches shouldn’t have to decide whether it’s worth losing a timeout, or future challenges of less obvious calls, to get it right.

We discussed other options last week, including more liberal use of booth replays and even the NHL’s system of having a centrally located official monitoring replays of games from the league office. Whatever the answer, it seems counterintuitive for coaches to weigh a costs for getting reasonably called games.

Now, on to our updated Challenge Tracker: