Officiating vice president defends quality of calls this season

ByKevin Seifert ESPN logo
Saturday, December 5, 2015

Dean Blandino, the NFL's vice president of officiating, released a spirited defense of the league's officiating Friday, citing internal statistics that suggest officials have made what he called "a very small number of mistakes" in a season rampant with controversy.

"There is a perception now that officiating is not very good at the moment," Blandino said during a two-minute statement on a weekly video produced by the league. "But the reality is that the officiating is very good."

Blandino's comments came after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said multiple times in recent weeks that he wants officiating to improve.

According to Blandino, officiating crews are averaging 4.3 mistakes in roughly 160 total plays per game this season, based on the league's confidential grading method.

The 2015 season has featured near-weekly instances of questionable calls, most recently a face mask penalty that extended Thursday night's game between the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions by one play, but Blandino said he considers them a statistical exception.

"We are talking about a handful of plays that have happened in high-profile situations," he said. "Those have been mistakes. We own them. We have to make the corrections and the adjustments to make sure they don't happen again."

One example of a call the officials got right, Blandino said, was a debated offensive pass interference call against New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowskiduring Sunday's game against the Denver Broncos.

"He's going to go into the defender, use his forearm to push off, extend his arm and create separation," Blandino said. "This is a foul for offensive pass interference. Whether he uses the forearm or an open hand, the key is the extension, the extended arm into the defensive player to create that separation."

Any time a receiver extends his arm to create space, offensive pass interference should be called, Blandino said.

Blandino also argued that technological scrutiny of officiating has changed the way performance is perceived.

"The officials are very, very good at what they do, and it's a very difficult job," Blandino said. "They see it once in real time, full speed, and then we all get to evaluate them from multiple different angles with high-definition, slow-motion replay. So we understand where the standard is, and we are going to work to meet that standard, but our officials are very, very good at what they do."

Goodell said last month that he would like to see more consistency across officiating crews, which historically produce wide ranges of penalty calls.

Speaking at an NFL owners meeting Tuesday in Dallas, Goodell said he thought the officials do an "extraordinary job" but announced the formation of a committee to study what many believe is a flawed catch rule. He also said that "no stone will be left unturned with respect to how we continue to improve officiating" and added that he wants the competition committee to study how to integrate more technology.

"We all recognize that officials are going to make mistakes," Goodell said. "What we need to do is try to avoid those mistakes as much as possible, train them differently, improve the quality of the officiating and use technology to help them whenever a mistake does occur."

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