Former NFL vice president of officiating Mike Pereira believes the number of preseason penalties given for violating the league's new helmet rule was more to send a message to players than how games will actually be called moving forward.
There were 51 flags thrown during the first 33 games of the preseason for the new rule, which doesn't allow any player to lower his head to initiate contact with his helmet. The final two weeks of the preseason saw that number decrease to 20, and only one was called during Week 1 of the regular season.
"The officials called it by the letter of the law in [preseason] Weeks 1 and 2 and then they got some verbiage added to the rule in terms of interpretation that if the contact is incidental or inadvertent, then it wasn't a foul," Pereira said on
Glenn Clark Radio
Sept. 13. "So it gave them the license to lay off a bit. I really do think the adjustment process filtered its way down to where it was in Week 1 [of the regular season]."
Each season, the league designates certain rules to be emphasized by referees. A year ago, the big emphasis was penalizing defenders more for hitting the quarterback below the knees. Throughout the 2018 preseason, there was frustration among players, coaches and fans for how the new helmet rule was being officiated.
When Pereira was in charge of the league's officials, many people asked him if he ever instructed officials to call certain penalties more to change players' mindsets on the field.
"I always used to say, 'Absolutely not. I want our officials to call it the same way in Week 1 as they would in Week 16,'" Pereira said. "Well, I was a big liar. In certain situations, you wanted to make a point."
Since that point was made during this year's preseason games, officials have backed off during the first couple of weeks of the regular season. The big difference was not calling penalties for players lowering their heads to brace for contact instead of initiating it.
Only Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Ron Parker was assessed the 15-yard penalty in Week 1, but he wasn't ejected. When Cincinnati Bengals safety Shawn Williams was ejected in Week 1 for a hit on Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, it wasn't due to the new helmet rule.
"[Williams'] disqualification was the emphasis on disqualifying players for flagrant hits," Pereira said. "That was new. That was called on the field as an ejection, confirmed by New York as an ejection."
The big question that remains is how many uncalled penalties there were, which Pereira believes could slightly increase the number called in future. When the referees get their grades back from the league and receive deductions for missed calls, they might compensate going forward.
But overall, Pereira hopes officials refrain from calling penalties for the new helmet rule like they did during the preseason, where there were such a substantial number of flags thrown.
"I hope, and I do believe this will be the case, that there's going to be more fines than fouls," Pereira said. "I would rather see the fining process take care of it more so than flinging flags and ending up with some calls that are incorrect."
For more from Pereira, listen to the full interview here: